Bruce Ellington caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Dylan Thompson with 11 seconds to go, giving South Carolina a 33-28 victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
TAMPA — When posterity sifts through all the breathtaking ebb and flow, boxes up all the subplots and surreality, it likely will condense the 27th Outback Bowl into two riveting snapshots:
South Carolina blunt-force purveyor Jadeveon Clowney, 6 feet 6 and 256 pounds, dislodging a Michigan player from his helmet and 5-9 receiver Bruce Ellington putting a different kind of hurt on the Wolverines.
Arguably the most exhilarating Outback Bowl ended with Ellington catching a 32-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Dylan Thompson with 11 seconds to go, giving No. 11 South Carolina a 33-28 victory Tuesday.
The winning TD occurred 3:18 after No. 19 Michigan (8-5) capped a 10-play drive on junior Devin Gardner’s third scoring pass of the game.
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“We haven’t won one like that since I’ve been here in eight years,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “So hopefully, that will sort of tell us, ‘Hey, we can do that.’ “
Spurrier said the team “hit eight of 10 goals” it had for the season.
Facing the nation’s second-ranked pass defense, the Gamecocks (11-2) ran 53 plays to Michigan’s 82 and had the ball nearly 16 fewer minutes.
But they converted five pass plays of 31 or more yards, duped the Wolverines on a 64-yard keeper by starting quarterback Connor Shaw and watched Ace Sanders return Michigan’s first punt of the day 63 yards for a touchdown.
“There are a couple of things in football that you don’t want to do, and number one, you can’t give up big plays,” Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said. “We had three, really four, big plays in the throw game that we can’t allow to happen.”
Five plays after Shaw exited because he aggravated an injured foot, Thompson passed to Ellington. A point guard for the Gamecocks’ basketball team, Ellington caught the pass near the 2, juked a Wolverines defender and dashed to his left into the end zone.
“I saw the safety coming, so I just wanted to make him miss and make it look a little more interesting,” Ellington said.
As if this game needed more interest. The final 15:02 had four lead changes, including Sanders’ 31-yard TD catch from Shaw with 8:06 to play for a 27-22 Gamecocks lead.
Earlier, Clowney burst into the Michigan backfield as Vincent Smith was taking a handoff, put his helmet in Smith’s chest — and sent the ball and Smith’s helmet flying. Clowney also recovered the fumble.
“It was like two cars hitting — I promise you, the hardest hit I’ve seen in my coaching career,” Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
All-American Clowney remembered Smith had hit him in the groin earlier in the game.
“He laughed about it,” Clowney recalled. “I said, ‘I’m going to get you later on.’ “