ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — South Carolina’s season was marred by the dismissal of its starting quarterback, the loss of its star running back to injury and an NCAA investigation for improper benefits.
Still, despite it all, the 10th-ranked Gamecocks won more games than any team in South Carolina history.
“This is for all fans of South Carolina — always,” coach Steve Spurrier belted out during the postgame celebration.
Alshon Jeffery caught four passes for 148 yards and a touchdown before getting ejected for fighting, and the Gamecocks set a school-record for victories in a 30-13 victory against Nebraska at the Capital One Bowl on Monday.
The Gamecocks (11-2) also snapped a string of three straight bowl losses. Spurrier said they will have rings “with a big ‘ole 11 on them” made for the team to commemorate the milestone.
Connor Shaw, who took over at quarterback when senior Stephen Garcia was kicked off the team, came up big, passing for two scores and rushing for another in one of his best games. He finished 11 for 17 for 230 yards and ran for 42 yards.
“We didn’t play all that great at times, and Nebraska didn’t play all that great either,” Spurrier said. “But we made some good stops here and there… We won the fourth quarter today against them and our defense was sensational.
“The record speaks for itself as the best team ever.”
Jeffery was having a surprisingly productive day playing just weeks after surgery on his hand for an injury he sustained in the regular-season finale. He was called for a personal foul penalty and ejected with just over two minutes left in the third quarter along with Cornhuskers cornerback Alfonso Dennard when both were caught throwing punches at each other after a play.
“Getting ejected, that is something that happened in the moment,” Jeffery said.
He said winning 11 games became the mission for the Gamecocks all season.
“Coach Spurrier, in the beginning of season six and in camp he wrote the goal’s try to win 11 games and try do things we did the first time. So that’s what we tried to do.”
The Gamecocks kept the pressure on even without Jeffery and went up 23-13 with 12:25 to play on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Shaw to Kenny Miles. Miles then added a 3-yard touchdown run with just over three minutes left — his first of the season — to put the game out of reach.
Miles was thrust into the starting role in October when sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore was lost for the season after tearing a ligament and sustaining cartilage damage in his left knee.
“It means that no matter what we’ll always be in the record book as the best team at South Carolina,” Miles said.
Nebraska (9-4) lost its second consecutive bowl game and drops to 12-6 all-time in bowl matchups against SEC foes.
“I’m proud of the season we had,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said of a year that also included the Cornhuskers moving to the Big Ten. “Obviously we didn’t finish the way we wanted. It doesn’t take away from where we are, where we’re going or what we accomplished.
Pelini’s team came into the game having been plagued by turnovers in its previous three losses. Pelini pointed to missed opportunities — which included going 1 for 3 in the red zone — as the culprit Monday.
“I’ll say it straight out — our football team, even after the game felt we were a better football team than them,” Pelini said. “But you’ve got to get out and earn it. It’s a humbling game. You give them credit. They made plays…We’re a pretty good team, too, but we didn’t execute at the times we needed to do it.”
Rex Burkhead kept Nebraska in the game with 89 yards rushing, but South Carolina sacked Taylor Martinez six times.
“We got in the red zone plenty of times and couldn’t finish it,” he said. “It’s is tough when you have no minimum like that and just don’t execute…We beat ourselves in a lot of phases of the game.”
Jeffery out-jumped the Nebraska secondary in the end zone to catch a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from Shaw at the end of the first half to send the Gamecocks into the locker room with a 16-13 lead.
Shaw passed for 161 yards in the half, hooking up with Jeffery on four of his five completions.
It helped pick up the slack for a stagnant South Carolina rushing attack, which produced just 58 yards on 21 attempts in the first half and only 121 yards on 40 carries for the game.
It also made up for an offensive line that allowed Shaw to be sacked four times on Monday, including three in the first half.
Heading into the offseason Spurrier said he’s excited about what he has to work with going forward.
“We’re different than maybe year’s past and to finish in the top ten and all that kind of stuff…Gee, if you got a bunch of guys playing like that, you can win against anybody,” he said. “Got a lot of them coming back and we’re going to try to have a big year next year.”