The Gamecocks are ringing in 2014 with their third-straight bowl victory and 11-win season after defeating Wisconsin 34-24. The game was a back-and-forth affair until the Gamecocks established a two-score lead for most of the third quarter. Carolina dominated late to secure the victory.
As expected, Connor Shaw was up to the task of leading his team in his final collegiate game. He won the bowl MVP award after throwing for over 300 yards and rushing for nearly 50. He also achieved the rare feat of having thrown, rushed, and caught touchdowns. The only major blemish on his performance was a fumble in the third quarter, but thankfully, Carolina's defense stood strong after that turnover and kept Wisconsin from converting it into points. During the post-game ceremony, Steve Spurrier called Shaw the best QB in school history, and while it would be difficult to measure such a thing given how much more talent overall Shaw's teams have had compared to past Carolina teams, Spurrier is certainly right to point out what a great career Shaw has had. His performance today was an appropriate swan song for him.
Prior to the game, many, including myself, felt that Carolina's talent at receiver might be the difference-maker in the game. That indeed may have been the case. Although the Badgers had success slowing down Carolina's running game, Bruce Ellington and Shaq Roland absolutely abused Wisconsin's secondary down the field. Both had catches that were worthy of the Sportscenter highlight reel. The one that really stands out in my mind is Ellington's fourth-down catch where he managed to tip the ball back to himself with one hand and then haul in the catch. If Ellington indeed declares for the NFL Draft, he gave scouts a wealth of evidence of his talent with his performance today. Roland, too, looked great and is primed for a big 2014 season in which I expect he'll become a household name.
Defensively, Carolina struggled with Wisconsin's running game early on, which was to be expected. However, the defense came up with a huge fourth-down stop early in the fourth quarter. That stop set up the drive on which Carolina went up by two scores. Wisconsin's offense wouldn't again see the field with the luxury of not having to move the ball quickly, and the Gamecocks had much more success once they had Wisconsin in a situation where it had to throw the ball more. That fourth-down stop was undoubtedly one of the biggest plays of the game. It also likely made a big difference that Wisconsin QB Joel Stave left the game during that drive after taking a bone-crushing hit from Victor Hampton. The Badgers could have used his passing ability late in the game.
Not that it should shock anybody, but Jadeveon Clowney confirmed that he'll be entering the NFL Draft after the game. Clowney didn't have any sacks in the game, but he did record a tackle for a loss and broke up several passes. He clearly affected many other plays, as well, particularly late in the game when Wisconsin was throwing the ball more. If Clowney doesn't go first in the draft, I'd hate to be the GM who doesn't pick him and then has to watch him dominate for years to come. Commentator Brian Griese put it very well when he said that those who have criticized Clowney's lack of statistical production this year don't know very much about football. It was blunt, but true. In the NFL, it won't be possible to scheme Clowney in the way he was schemed this year. I look forward to watching him as a pro.
The win gives Carolina a good chance at its highest post-season ranking in school history. We set the existing mark last year, when we finished seventh in the coaches poll and eighth in the AP. (Ohio St. was ineligible to appear in the coaches poll because it was on probation.) We currently sit at eighth in both polls. We have good chance at finishing ahead of the loser of tonight's Michigan St.-Stanford Rose Bowl matchup. Gamecocks fans should also hope for Baylor and Ohio St. to lose. While that would involve Clemson winning the Orange Bowl, Carolina has an outside shot at its first-ever top-five finish should both of those teams lose.
Happy New Year, and Go 'Cocks!
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