USC, Clemson put it on the line in big bowl wins

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Sports Talks

By Robert Howey


     South Carolina didn’t get the bowl game memo.

Neither did Clemson.

As a result, the fan bases for both Palmetto State football teams had a happy new year. Call it bright orange for CU and glowing garnet for USC.

The word, on both teams, was they were underdogs in their respective Florida bowl games.

Didn’t you see that little ticker about ESPN’s Power Index at the bottom of the TV screen when the two bowl games were being ballyhooed during bowl week?

The Gamecocks were picked to fall by three, while Clemson was tabbed to tumble in the neighborhood of nine points. Glad they don’t predict the weather, but otherwise the Tigers and Gamecocks enjoyed the Florida sunshine over the last week.

To CU’s and USC’s credit, they went out and made plays and proved they could produce positive results on a neutral field. I say neutral since they weren’t playing at home, but their ardent fans made each feel they were closer to home than they actually were.

Okay, so how did the Tigers trounce the Buckeyes, 40-35 in the Orange Bowl, and the Gamecocks gouge the Badgers, 34-24 in the Capital One clash?

Look at key points in the second half.

First, for the Tigers, who at once stretch, forged a 20-9 lead on OSU before the Buckeyes stormed back with 20 unanswered points to build a 29-20 spread.

Ohio State, after going up by nine in the third period, then forced a Clemson punt, and the way the Buckeyes were moving the ball, they looked poised to extend their lead in a record-setting game billed as a shootout.

Then Clemson delivered with what had plagued them in their two losses – a game-changing turnover.

The fumbled punt recovered by the Tigers’ Robert Smith at the OSU 33 was huge.

The opportunistic Tigers responded with a leaping Sammy Watkins’ 30-yard TD catch. The talented Watkins, on a grand stage in prime time, ignited with a record-setting night with 16 catches for 227 and two TDs for MVP.

Then, another turnover led to a spectacular Martavis Bryant juggling reception to put Clemson up, 34-29. OSU regained the lead, but Clemson had an answer, with Tajh Boyd connecting with Stanton Seckinger on a critical five-yard TD catch on an well-executed play for a 40-35 edge. Boyd finished with 505 all-purpose yards, outgaining Ohio State by 78 yards himself.

Clemson’s Stephone Anthony intercepted a Braxton Miller pass over the middle with 1:18 remaining to seal the win. Miller’s timely pick came on the heels of a Tigers turnover, but this time Clemson was equal to the challenge for its first BCS win.

“It was a great team performance,” Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said. “We have a lot of heart on this team and we found a way to win.”

You could say the same for USC.

They rallied in the second half after trailing at the break, 14-13.

The key point came when the Gamecocks forged a 27-17 lead and appeared in control, but the Badgers got right back in it with a stunning 91-yard kickoff return to make it a three-point game, 27-24.

On the enusing kickoff, the Badgers came up with a big stop, forcing USC to start at its 12. A good feeling was seemingly slipping away.

Momentum seemed to be with Wisconsin at that point, but Gamecocks’ senior quarterback Connor Shaw took control and guided USC on a pivotal nine-snap, 88-yard drive, deftly mixing the run and pass. His one-yard plunge made it 34-24.

Shaw was brilliant, earning the game MVP as he hit on 22 of 25 passes for 312 yards and also caught a TD pass to give USC its third straight New Year’s Day bowl win and a third consecutive 11-win season.

Shaw had plenty of help in his air assault as soon-to-be pro Bruce Ellington had six catches for 140 yards and two scores. Shaq Roland also grabbed six passes for 112, including an acrobatic 49-yard catch between two Badgers’ defenders to set up a TD.

The USC defense, led by Jadeveon Clowney in his final Gamecocks game with a season-high five tackles, two pass break-up, a QB hurry and a tackle for loss, iced the game on freshman linebacker’s Skai Moore’s second interception along with Kaiwan Lewis’ late fumble recovery.

“The guys, we came together as a team today and Connor did a great job of leading us,” Ellington said. “We just came out and played.”

The odds said it wasn’t going to happen for Clemson, or South Carolina against a pair of formidable Big Ten foes.

As a result for the orange and the garnet, it wasn’t about the line, but going out and laying it on the line.