Gamecocks beat Miami for fourth straight bowl win

SCBowlIt would come down to the very last minute of the game, but the South Carolina Gamecocks (7-6) secured their 11th-straight season with a record of .500 or better thanks to a 24-21 win over Miami (6-7) Saturday afternoon in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl. It’s Carolina’s fourth-straight bowl win in as many seasons, making it the only SEC team to do so.

A bend-but-don’t-break defense helped carry the Gamecocks through the early portion of the game while the offense was still finding its footing. Despite a pair of Miami drives that went deep into Carolina territory, the Hurricanes could only muster a pair of field goals after being stopped inside the ten yard line both times.

It took a big play halfway through the second quarter to shake the offense from its slow start. On second down at its own 22, Dylan Thompson hit a wide-open Pharoh Cooper on a post route down the middle for the 78-yard touchdown to move the Gamecocks ahead 7-6 with just under eight minutes to play in the first half. The yardage in just that one play matched the offense’s total gains for the entire game up until that point, and tied for the longest pass play in the bowl’s history.

The score broke the seal on the offense, which scored on the very next drive after the defense forced a three-and-out from Miami. Starting near midfield, Thompson spearheaded the scoring drive with a trio of difficult throws. After hooking up with Cooper for a 13-yard first down, he followed it up with a 35-yard strike to Damiere Byrd to get to the Hurricane five-yard line.

A penalty pushed the Gamecocks back to the 15-yard line before Thompson rolled to his left and threw across his body to Mike Davis in the back of the end zone for a 14-6 lead.

On the very next drive, a pass from Miami’s Brad Kaaya was tipped up in the air and intercepted by Jonathan Walton. The turnover would set up a 32-yard field goal from Elliott Fry and cap the team’s scoring for the half, a 17-6 lead.

After struggling to stop Miami’s nationally renowned rushing offense in the first quarter, the Gamecocks defense learned quickly and held the opposition to just 44 yards in the second quarter after allowing 160 in just the first two drives of the game.

The third quarter was largely controlled by Miami, who drew within a field goal of tying the game after an 11-play, 93-yard drive for a touchdown and a two-point conversion. The offensive momentum for Carolina would not carry over the break, as its first four drives of the second half would go for just 71 yards on 25 plays.

The Gamecocks continued to be stymied offensively early on in the fourth quarter, before another game-changing moment would provide the difference.

Carolina would punt the ball with seven minutes left in the game, still ahead 17-14. On the drive’s second play, Miami’s Duke Johnson rushed to the right and was swarmed immediately. Gerald Dixon would emerge from the pile with the ball, but the game officials ruled that he was already down before the ball came out. After it was reviewed, however, it was decided that it was a fumble.

On the ensuing possession, Thompson and Cooper would combine yet again for a big play, as the sophomore wide receiver went over the back of his defender on the under-thrown ball and hauled in the 25-yard strike to set up first-and-goal at the two yard line. On the very next play, Thompson would sell the read option fake and keep it for the touchdown, strikingly similar to his game-winner against Florida.

The two-score lead would come in handy, as Miami drove 72 yards in under two minutes for a touchdown to make it 24-21.

With 2:16 still to play and needing to run out the clock, the Gamecocks turned to Davis to seal the win. He converted a third-and-one that would be the clincher, as it forced the Hurricanes to use their final two timeouts. Thompson scrambled out the clock and the Gamecocks were able to celebrate.

In his final game in the Garnet and Black, Thompson would finish with 284 yards through the air on 22 completions and a pair of touchdowns to go with his rushing score. Thompson finishes the season with 3,574 passing yards, extending his single-season school record, and 26 passing touchdowns, the second most for a single-season in school history.

Cooper would bring in nine catches for 170 yards and earned offensive MVP honors for his efforts. Davis led the rushing attack with 55 yards on 13 carries. Skai Moore earned defensive MVP honors for his efforts, which included a team-leading 11 tackles.

Photo Courtesy of USC Athletics

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