Thanks to inspired efforts by quarterback Connor Shaw and receiver Bruce Ellington, No. 9 South Carolina defeated No. 19 Wisconsin to win the 2014 Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1 by a score of 34-24.
The thrilling contest featured plenty of offensive fireworks by each team, even after both got off to cold starts.
After Wisconsin's Joel Stave threw an interception with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Shaw kicked off the action in exhilarating fashion with a 39-yard touchdown strike to Ellington, putting the Gamecocks up by seven points heading into the second quarter.
Wisconsin didn't take long to respond, however, as Shaw's touchdown strike seemed to open up the offensive floodgates for both teams.
Starting out the next drive at their own 29-yard line, the Badgers marched down the field on a six-play, 71-yard scoring drive that concluded with a one-yard touchdown pass from Stave to little-used tight end Sam Arneson, tying the game at seven.
South Carolina responded with another scoring drive on its next possession—a superb 12-play masterpiece that ended with a tricky touchdown pass from Ellington to Shaw.
South Carolina failed to get in on a two-point conversion, putting the Gamecocks ahead by six points instead of seven, 13-7.
Not surprisingly, given the way the second quarter went, Wisconsin responded with a 16-play touchdown-scoring drive of its own. Stave connected with senior receiver Jeff Duckworth on a three-yard score with just 13 seconds on the clock before halftime, putting Wisconsin up 14-13 at the half.
After Wisconsin opened up the second half with a field goal to take a 17-13 lead, Shaw gave Gamecocks fans a collective panic attack.
He coughed up the ball on South Carolina's first play on the next drive, setting up the Badgers with excellent field position on their opponent's 31-yard line.
But South Carolina's defense held and Wisconsin's Jack Russell missed his 42-yard field-goal attempt, giving the Gamecocks a new lease on life.
Nine plays and 75 yards later, Shaw hit Ellington for the dynamic duo's third touchdown strike, putting South Carolina up 20-17, but it almost never happened.
On 4th-and-7 at Wisconsin's 44-yard line, Shaw threw a pass to Ellington that should have been incomplete, but the receiver made a jaw-dropping play to secure the ball and keep his team's drive alive:
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, both teams had forgotten all about their punters, who hadn't touched the field since the first quarter.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin's offense suffered a tremendous blow just before the final stanza, as Stave suffered a shoulder strain and was lost for the game, as reported by ESPN's Tom Luginbill (via CBS Sports' Eye on College FBall):
Senior Curt Phillips, who had thrown just two passes all year, replaced Stave in the starting lineup.
Shortly thereafter, South Carolina made a tremendous defensive stand on the second play of the quarter, stoning running back Melvin Gordon for no gain on 4th-and-1 at the Gamecocks' 26-yard line.
Shaw threw his third touchdown pass of the day just six plays later, capping off a 74-yard drive and putting his team up by 10 points, 27-17, with just over 11 minutes to play.
Without its starting quarterback and down by 10 points, Wisconsin was in trouble. However, on the next play, junior receiver Kenzel Doe took the kickoff 91 yards to pay dirt, which pulled the Badgers back to within three points, 27-24.
But as he'd done throughout the game, Shaw drove his offense right down the field once more. His one-yard touchdown run finished off a relentless nine-play drive that chewed up 88 yards in just under four-and-a-half minutes.
It also put South Carolina up by a score of 34-24 with just 6:27 left in the fourth quarter.
The teams then traded three turnovers—two interceptions by Wisconsin's Phillips and one lost fumble by South Carolina's Brandon Wilds—setting up South Carolina with the ball on its own 20-yard line with just over three minutes remaining on the game clock.
Wisconsin failed to score on a last-ditch effort late in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over on a fumble to give the Gamecocks the 10-point win.
Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: A
It's hard to poke any holes in Shaw's brilliant performance at the Capital One Bowl.
The senior quarterback was unflappable—as always—totaling 368 yards and five touchdowns (three passing, one rushing and one receiving) while turning the ball over just once on a lost fumble.
It remains to be seen if the quarterback will find success at the next level in the NFL. Not surprisingly, he received a ringing endorsement after the game by head coach Steve Spurrier, as noted by Dane Brugler of CBS Sports:
Regardless of what kind of success he finds at the next level, there's no denying Shaw had a stellar college career, and he couldn't have scripted a better way to close it out.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: B+
The only reason to knock Gordon's performance against South Carolina is that he didn't score a touchdown during the game.
Toting the rock 25 times for 143 yards (5.7 yards per carry), he carried Wisconsin's offense throughout the game. Unfortunately, the sophomore wasn't able to find his way into the end zone, sending he and the Badgers home with the taste of losing in their mouths.
Look out for this kid next year, as he will return for his junior season and should be one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina: A+
Ellington had one of the best games of his young life on Jan. 1 against Wisconsin.
As Ryan Wood of The Post & Courier pointed out, the junior receiver was making a strong case for NFL scouts, totaling six catches for 140 yards and two touchdown grabs:
Ellington's tip-drill 22-yard reception on fourth down to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter was also noteworthy, and it's clear he was one of the best college football players in the nation to open up 2014.
For both teams, the Capital One Bowl represented the final phase of the 2013-14 college football season.
Some players, like Jadeveon Clowney, will now head into a rigorous training regimen as the 2014 NFL draft approaches. It's long been suspected that Clowney would enter the draft after the season and he confirmed those suspicions after the game, via Brugler:
The coaching staffs for both teams will now focus on recruiting for next year and beyond, and both programs—as always—will be aiming for a better result next season.
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