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South Carolina defeated Michigan in the Outback Bowl this afternoon by a score of 33-28. The game was a classic, one of those games you sometimes see in a bowl, where both teams come to play and the coaches empty out the playbooks. The game was literally filled with great plays and highlight clips that we'll likely be talking about and watching for years to come. It featured several lead changes in the second half, capped off by Dylan Thompson's game-winning TD toss to Bruce Ellington. Just a great game all around, and the kind that should generate some excitement around the program.
To me, the story of the game for Carolina was the effectiveness of the passing game. I had expected for Carolina to have some offensive success in this game, and it did (Carolina really should have had over 40 points but missed a couple of field goals and PAT tries), but how it had its success surprised me. The running game, outside of a couple of zone-read keepers by Shaw, was nonexistent. Kenny Miles was the only back who got any carries, and he ran for only a yard on four carries. That's usually not a winning formula. But the passing game was explosive. Ace Sanders had what might have been his best game, catching nine balls for 90+ yards, including an amazing catch in the back of the end zone in the fourth quarter. He also ran a punt back for a touchdown. Several other receivers got in on the act, including Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd, both of whom hauled in long balls. Ellington, the most consistent receiver throughout the year, didn't see much action throughout the game, but he made the big play when it counted. It was an all-around great day for the receivers, and both Thompson and Connor Shaw did a good job of getting the football to them. I thought Shaw did a better job of getting the ball out and in the air to the wide receivers, even if he still had a couple of head-scratchers here and there and a few errantly thrown balls.
That said, I was more impressed by Thompson. The offense looked very crisp while he was in the game, as he did a great job of reading Michigan's defense and put the ball on the money on his throws. Truth be told, he should have had one more TD pass, as he threw two strikes into the end zone on one drive that were misplayed by Jones and Byrd, leading to one of the missed field goals. I've been a big Shaw supporter for most of the year, but I'll have to admit, Thompson is growing on me. I found myself thinking that Spurrier should have given Thompson another series or two in this game, and I feel that the coaches are going to think long and hard about the possibility of giving Thompson the reins once spring rolls around. Of course, Thompson does lack Shaw's running ability, which was on show at times today, despite Shaw still clearly being hurt. And we can also hope that Shaw continues developing his ability to read a defense and to get the ball out.
I might have more on the game tomorrow, but the last thing I wanted to note for now is that the blown call on the measurement is, almost without a doubt, the worst call I've ever seen in a football game. I understand that referees sometimes have to make difficult judgment calls, but this wasn't a judgment call. It was black and white--the ball didn't make it to the marker. It was a shocking call that we would be hearing a lot about right now if not for the fact that Jadeveon Clowney delivered one of the nastiest hits I've seen in years on the next play, forcing a key fumble that he recovered himself to set up a Carolina score. Like I said, a memorable game.