University of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw put an exclamation mark on his record-setting Gamecock career in the 2014 Capital One Bowl – his final collegiate football game.
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound senior from Flowery Branch, Georgia connected on 22 of 25 passes for a season-high 312 yards and three touchdowns in leading the No. 9 Gamecocks (11-2, 6-2 SEC) to a 34-24 win over No. 19 Wisconsin (9-4, 6-2 Big Ten). Shaw also ran for 47 yards and another score – and caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from junior wide receiver Bruce Ellington.
He finishes his Gamecock career with a school-best 27-5 record as a starter – including a perfect record at home and in bowl games.
Meanwhile junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney – another Gamecock playing in his final collegiate football game – turned in one of his best games of the season, recording five tackles (including one for loss), numerous quarterback pressures and a pass deflection that led to an interception late in the game.
In fact the Gamecock defense – gashed in the first half by All-Big Ten running backs Melvin Gordon and James White – rallied down the stretch, forcing turnovers on Wisconsin’s final three drives and stuffing its vaunted rushing attack on a critical fourth down play early in the fourth quarter.
Clowney confirmed after the game that he will enter the NFL Draft this year – where he is likely to be among the top five players chosen, perhaps even the No. 1 overall selection. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and defensive back Victor Hampton will join Clowney in declaring themselves eligible for the draft.
While Clowney’s status as an elite NFL prospect has never been in doubt, Shaw gave pro scouts plenty to ponder against the Badgers (9-4, 6-2 Big Ten) – who lost their fourth consecutive bowl game. He threw darts – most notably a pair of touchdown strikes to Ellington and a deep bomb to sophomore wide receiver Shaq Roland early in the fourth quarter that set up another score.
Ellington had another huge bowl game for head coach Steve Spurrier’s squad – catching six passes for a season-high 140 yards and a pair of scores. No catch was bigger than his acrobatic, over-the-shoulder fingertip grab on a fourth-and-seven play from the Wisconsin 44-yard line – which set up a touchdown when Spurrier dialed up the exact same play call for a 22-yard scoring strike from Shaw to Ellington on the next snap.
Those two catches were as good as any “Bruuuuuuce” has made in his career … and the 5-foot-9, 196-pound two-sport star from Moncks Corner, S.C. accompanied his game-changing grabs with some Fred Astaire footwork on the sidelines.
Clowney and the Gamecock defense also bailed Shaw out of his only mistake of the game – a fumble on South Carolina’s first drive of the second half that set Wisconsin up at the Gamecock 31-yard line.
Leading by four points and dominating the Gamecocks with their bruising ground game, the Badgers looked to be in position to win their first bowl game since the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl.
White was stuffed on a critical third down play and a 42-yard field goal attempt from sophomore placekicker Jack Russell sailed wide right on fourth down.
Still, Wisconsin’s dynamic duo combined for 250 rushing yards – imposing their will on one of the SEC’s top defenses for most of the game.
With its third straight bowl victory over a Big Ten opponent, South Carolina has secured its third consecutive 11-win season. To put that in perspective, heading into the 2011 campaign the Gamecocks had won ten games just once – in 117 seasons of football. They’d also never finished in the Top Ten – something they are now a lock to do for the third consecutive year.