It wasn’t pretty at times, but No. 9 South Carolina’s offense and defense stepped up when they needed to and USC came away with a 34-24 win over No. 19 Wisconsin on New Year’s Day. This is the third straight 11-2 season for the Cocks, which is a new school record.
Carolina got off to a good start with a drive that took up almost half of the first quarter, but it ended in a punt when the drive stalled at the Badgers’ 35. Wisconsin’s first drive looked to end in a field goal, but they tried to fake it and the Gamecocks defense sniffed it out, turning the ball over on downs.
The following USC drive ended in another punt, but the tide turned a bit when Skai Moore picked off UW QB Joel Stave on the next possession. The Cocks ended the first quarter with a 39-yard TD pass from Connor Shaw to BRUUUUUUUUUCE Ellington, but the lead was short-lived.
The Badgers found the end zone early in the second quarter, knotting the score at 7-7. Carolina regained the lead on their next drive, when they broke out a trick play that saw to Shaw pass to Pharoh Cooper, who pitched it to Bruce Ellington, who threw it back to Shaw, but an unfortunate special teams play resulted in a missed extra point and a lot of groans from fans, who have been unimpressed with a lot of the special teams work all season.
Wisconsin responded by tacking on another touchdown of their own, giving the Badgers their first lead of the day, and they took that 14-13 advantage into halftime.
UW opened the third quarter with a field goal, putting them up 17-13. The next Gamecocks drive was short lived, as a rare fumble by Shaw gave the ball back to the Badgers. They tried for another field goal, but Jack Russell’s kick wasn’t close, going wide right and letting South Carolina breathe a small sigh of relief. The defense had been struggling mightily at stopping Wisconsin, so any good fortune was more than welcome.
The Cocks took that luck and turned it into points, as a five-minute possession ended with Shaw finding Ellington for another TD, putting Carolina back on top 20-17. Late in the third quarter, the Badgers also lost Stave to an injury that appeared to be his shoulder or collarbone. Stave was rocked on a huge hit by Victor Hampton, which may have caused the injury. UW coach Gary Andersen said after the game that Stave indicated he could not throw the ball anymore once he was hurt.
The Badgers’ next drive stalled, and USC got the ball back looking to add some insurance to their lead. They managed to do that, as Shaw and Jerell Adams hooked up for another score, putting the Gamecocks up 27-17. Wisconsin wasn’t going down without a fight, though, as Kenzel Doe ran a kickoff 91 yards to the house to make it 27-24 with just under 11 minutes remaining in the game.
Shaw continued to march the team down the field, and he took the ball into the end zone himself to give USC a 10-point lead again. Badgers backup QB Curt Phillips was picked off by Kaiwan Lewis on their next possession, but Brandon Wilds fumbled the ball right back to UW. In a crazy twist of events, Phillips was intercepted again, this time by Moore, to give the ball back to the Cocks with under five minutes remaining in the game.
They couldn’t do anything with it, though, and were forced to punt, giving the ball back to the Badgers with just over two minutes to go. Wisconsin had no timeouts left, and though they came close to scoring, Melvin Gordon, who had been a running rockstar all day, fumbled, and it was recovered by Lewis, sealing the win for South Carolina.
This game marked the HBC’s 300th as a college coach. He now has an overall record of 221-79 in 24 seasons and is 77-39 as Carolina’s coach.
The Gamecocks racked up 438 total yards, while the Badgers were close behind with 410. The teams were almost even in first downs, too, with UW notching 21 and USC tallying 20. The Cocks turned the ball over two times while the Badgers did so twice, and each team had possession for about half of the game.
Shaw was named the game’s MVP, and while his supporting cast was certainly impressive, he really, really deserved it (he got my vote). Shaw finished the day an outstanding 22-of-25 for 312 yards, three TDs, no picks, and he also rushed for and caught a touchdown, the first and only catch of his college career. He finishes the season with 24 TDs and just one interception and a 27 victories, a school record. After the game, the HBC also revealed that Shaw will be at the NFL combine.
Before he had to leave the game, Stave went 9-of-13 for 80 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick. Phillips was 7-of-12 for 37 yards and two interceptions.
Mike Davis led the Gamecocks in rushing with nine carries for 49 yards, and Ellington led them in receiving with six catches for 140 yards and two TDs. After the game, Ellington said he was still undecided about whether or not he’ll leave for the NFL, but it seems likely that he will. Gordon had 146 yards on 25 carries and Jared Abbrederis had 30 yards on five receptions to lead the Badgers.
Though the defense was unimpressive at times, Jadeveon Clowney and Hampton, both making their final collegiate appearances, came through with big plays throughout the game. Hampton said after the game the team was motivated by the way analysts and experts (read: ESPN) were treating – and maybe even disrespecting – USC leading up to the bowl.
South Carolina finishes 11-2 overall (6-2 in the SEC) and Wisconsin finishes 9-4 overall (6-2 in the Big Ten).