If ever there was one game from the bowl season thus far that perfectly demonstrated what college football is all about, South Carolina's 33-28 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl was that game.
Despite heroic efforts from Robinson and Gallon, the Wolverines fell one possession short against South Carolina, after a 32-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington put the Gamecocks ahead for good with just 11 seconds left on the clock.
But boy oh boy, was the entire game something to see.
South Carolina took the early momentum, as Connor Shaw hit Damiere Byrd for a 56-yard touchdown on the Gamecocks' first drive, and looked ready to pounce again when Jimmy Legree intercepted a Devin Gardner pass.
The Gamecocks wouldn't capitalize on that turnover, however, and Michigan's Brendan Gibbons would kick a 38-yard field goal on the team's next drive to cut the deficit to 7-3.
While Michigan's defense settled down in the first quarter, the special teams let the Wolverines down, giving up a 63-yard punt return to the explosive Ace Sanders, giving the Gamecocks a 14-3 lead.
But Michigan would start strong in the second quarter, going on an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a Gardner five-yard touchdown pass to Drew Dileo, making the score 14-10.
But South Carolina wasn't about to give Michigan any momentum. On the next drive, Thompson connected with Nick Jones for a 70-yard pass on a third-down play. That would lead to a four-yard touchdown reception by Sanders, giving the Gamecocks a 21-10 lead.
After a South Carolina fumble, Michigan would fail to capitalize on a fake field-goal attempt, but the Wolverines would end up kicking a field goal to trim the lead to 21-13 before the half.
The third quarter belonged to the Wolverines. After inching closer with a third Gibbons field goal, Michigan would take the lead just before the start of the fourth quarter, 22-21, on Gardner's 10-yard touchdown completion to Gallon (the Wolverines would miss the two-point conversion).
The key play on that drive would be a 4th-and-1 conversion, as a Gardner sneak resulted in a 19-yard gain. The Wolverines certainly weren't afraid to take a few chances in this game.
On the ensuing drive, South Carolina drove down the field, but its attempted field goal was blocked. It was the second missed chance at points with the field-goal unit, as kicker Adam Yates earlier missed a 33-yard field-goal attempt.
After Michigan faked a punt on the next drive and was handed a first down despite clearly not getting one on the play (more on that later), the Gamecocks responded on the next play, as Jadeveon Clowney absolutely demolished Vincent Smith in the backfield and recovered the subsequent fumble.
The Gamecocks wasted little time capitalizing on their newfound momentum, as Shaw found Sanders on a 31-yard touchdown strike. After failing to execute the two-point conversion, South Carolina's lead stood at 27-22.
But as you might have guessed, the Wolverines would answer. And yes, they would do so on the very next drive, as Gardner would find Jeremy Gallon for 17-yard touchdown pass. And yes, they too would miss the two-point conversion, taking a 28-27 lead with 3:29 left on the clock.
The fourth quarter was nuts, folks.
And so was South Carolina's game-winning drive. After converting a key 4th-and-3 completion to Sanders and moving the ball down the field, both Sanders and Shaw would leave the game with injuries.
No biggie—Thompson would find Ellington down the seam for a 32-yard touchdown pass with just 11 seconds left on the clock. South Carolina would again fail to convert the two-point try, however, and went ahead 33-28, this time for good.
Michigan's magic had finally run out, as the Wolverines simply didn't have enough time to move down the field for a final score. Give the Wolverines credit for giving South Carolina everything it could handle, but the Gamecocks were one play better on this afternoon.
Players of the Game
Folks, this game was college football at its finest. Denard Robinson (100 yards rushing), Gardner (214 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception) and Gallon (nine receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns) were phenomenal.
For South Carolina, Sanders (nine receptions for 92 yards, three total touchdowns), Shaw (227 passing yards and two touchdowns, 96 rushing yards) and Clowney (who had arguably the play of the game when he forced a fourth-quarter fumble and was a force throughout) put on quite the show.
Remember that botched fourth-down spot mentioned earlier? Well, this is what it looked like (via Bleacher Report):
The officials ruled this a first down and Steve Spurrier went crazy twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 1, 2013
In what universe is that a first down? Thankfully, Clowney would get the Gamecocks the ball back on the next play, but that call from the referees was absurd.
As Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports points out, it's been a good two days for the folks in South Carolina:
How bout state of South Carolina's 24 hours? Clemson at the gun last night, Gamecocks with a thunderbolt today. Wow.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) January 1, 2013
And as Dennis Dodd of CBS points out, you've got to give Steve Spurrier credit for rolling the dice and taking a shot downfield rather than settling for the field goal. It took kahunas, but it paid off in a big way:
Note to all coaches in that situation: You've got to take your shot. Once. But you've got to take it. Viva Spur Dog.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) January 1, 2013
This was a game to remember. It certainly was an excellent warmup to the BCS games to follow.