The 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl was quite a strange game.
Florida State pulled out a 26-17 win, yet I can't decide if the final score should have been closer or farther apart. It was a defensive battle throughout that saw multiple star players go down with injuries.
Freshman running back Marcus Lattimore left the game with a concussion under three minutes into the contest and Christian Ponder was not far behind.
The Gamecocks were kept in the game by a strong defense, but their offense couldn't do enough to let them leave the field with a win.
There was, however, much to be learned from the game. Read on to find out what.
By getting injured in this game, Marcus Lattimore still managed to prove just how valuable he is to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The offense absolutely could not move without him in the first half. It was better in the second, but they'd had time to adjust the game plan.
Lattimore was injured with 12:21 left in the first quarter, meaning that he was only in the game for a whopping 2:39. Yet in that time, he still managed to 48 receiving yards, which led South Carolina for the first half.
This kid is an absolute stud running back and his value was proved when we saw just how much Steve Spurrier's team missed him.
As Spurrier said after the game about the loss of Lattimore, "It hurt a bit. No question about that. We would have kept trying to run a little bit more. That's for sure."
Whether you like it or not, South Carolina fans, Brian Maddox is no Marcus Lattimore.
On the season, Maddox had carried the ball 62 times for 338 yards and just two touchdowns going into the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The senior got his opportunity to shine in this game, but he failed to seize the moment in his 15 (or actually 57:21) minutes of fame.
Maddox wasn't too bad, he did have a key touchdown run with 11:56 left in the fourth quarter to cut the score to 19-17 in Florida State's favor. But he still wasn't superb. His final stat-line included that touchdown, 12 rushes and 53 yards. He also caught two passes for 16 yards.
Alshon Jeffery stands 6'4" and weighs 233 pounds. The massive sophomore receiver is not exactly the easiest man in the nation for defensive backs to bring down.
Two plays from the Chick-fil-A Bowl stand out in my mind when it comes to Jeffery.
One was his first catch of the game, where he fought for extra yardage and dragged a defender along with him, refusing to go down at the first bit of contact.
Then, on a third-and-10 in the third quarter, Jeffery caught a pass on a slant route over the middle. It literally took five Florida State defenders to bring him down.
In the fourth quarter, Stephon Gilmore hit him for 29-yard reception where he literally jumped over the defensive back. If this were a basketball game, he'd have been called for an over-the-back.
This wide receiver is quite hard to tackle. He finished with nine catches for 130 yards, easily the most productive day for South Carolina.
South Carolina wants to take the next step as a program in the 2011 season and make it to a BCS Bowl at the very least.
They have the talent at many positions to do that. Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore both have Heisman potential in 2011, but the quarterback position is too weak.
Stephen Garcia is not a talented enough passer to lead a team to the promised land.
This game kind of proved the point as he threw three interceptions in the first half. In fact, Garcia has yet to throw a touchdown pass in any of his three career bowl games. He has however thrown seven interceptions.
In the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl, Garcia finished 19-for-34 with those three interceptions and 243 yards. He also rushed eight times for 25 yards.
Unless Connor Shaw vastly improves and takes over at the helm, the Gamecocks may find themselves back in the Chick-fil-A Bowl next year.
While there was a very limited sample size, Christian Ponder only hurt his NFL draft status with his Chick-fil-A Bowl performance.
The cerebral quarterback completed just one of his five passes for six yards before leaving the game with a concussion. He also ran five times, but only picked up an additional three yards.
His worst play came on a fourth-and-one from the South Carolina two-yard line. The fullback, Lonnie Pryor, was wide open on the right side of the end zone after a play-action bootleg by Ponder. Ponder attempted to short-arm the ball and it went right into the ground.
It was one of the worst throws I've ever seen and will be the lasting impression from Ponder, which is a shame because the quarterback had such an excellent career.
E.J. Manuel was a star for the Florida State Seminoles in the victory.
After coming on in relief for Christian Ponder, Manuel went 11-for-15 for 84 yards and a touchdown. He was also only sacked once and ran seven times for 53 yards.
It's always impressive for a backup quarterback to come in, relieving the starter, and play extraordinarily well. Yet that's exactly what Manuel did.
As Jimbo Fisher said, "E.J. is special. He is going to be a really special player. I'm glad he's on my team." The last sentence of that quotation was punctuated by a good-natured laugh.
The offensive MVP for the Florida State Seminoles was Chris Thompson.
A sophomore running back, Thompson ran 25 times for 148 yards and a key touchdown. He also caught a team-high two passes for 17 yards.
In the game Thompson showed off his slashing ability, quickness and power multiple times. On one drive he carried the ball four times for 44 yards and impressed everyone.
With E.J. Manuel and Thompson next year, Florida State could be a team to watch out for.
With his dad watching for the first time since his freshman year in high school, Greg Reid won the defensive MVP award in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
After the game he said that playing in front of his dad, who has been in and out of jail for cocaine trafficking over the last six years was, "Amazing. He heard and watched me a couple of times in those six years. I think he had a good time tonight."
The cornerback who Jimbo Fisher says is "about 5'8" and 180 pounds who thinks he is 7'3" and 380 pounds," certainly had a good time for himself.
Reid was all over the field, returning two punts for 53 yards and a kickoff for 18. He also forced two South Carolina fumbles. On the first he hit Marcus Lattimore hard enough to send him to the hospital for stitches and with a concussion, jarring the ball lose with the hard, yet legal, hit.
The second saw him strip Alshon Jeffery after a 15-yard reception.
The sophomore also broke up a career-high four passes in the game.
Dustin Hopkins set a Florida State Seminoles bowl record by making four field goals. He was the true star of the game in my opinion.
Hopkins, wearing his gold shoes, scored the first six points with a 29-yard and a 48-yard field goal, then scored six more in the third by knocking through a 35-yarder and a 45-yarder. Additionally, he added two PATs.
But the humble Hopkins wouldn't take all the credit, saying, "It was a collective effort. The team put me in a good position to succeed tonight."
All-in-all, the Chick-fil-A Bowl is a truly great experience.
From the Battle for Bowl Week throughout the days leading up to the game to the competition itself, everything about it is both entertaining and done for the right reasons.
Take the national anthem for example. The Chick-fil-A president and CEO performed the national anthem with a rousing trumpet solo that got the crowd extremely pumped up for the game.
Minutes later, cows came parachuting down from the sky to be taken home as souvenirs.
From the opening kickoff to the confetti drop at the end of the game, the fans that came out on New Year's Eve truly had a good time supporting their respective teams.
The noise level and passion was palpable throughout, enhancing the Chick-fil-A Bowl for all involved.
For Florida State, it was good enough that Jimbo Fisher said afterwards that he wanted to get involved with the Chick-fil-A kickoff game in coming years.