A Cold Day in ‘Ham – Offense Freezes in Bowl

The Gamecock offense came out colder than the 22 degree chill factor temperature at kickoff, and though the temperature warmed up five degrees during the game, the USC attack didn't until it was too late. Meanwhile, UConn's Andre Dixon rushed for 127 yards and a tuchdown. As a result, USC fell 20-7 to the Connecticut Huskies in the PapaJohns.com Bowl, and also fell to 7-6 on the season.

Maybe the cold was a factor. And maybe the Connecticut Huskies were more used to it than the South Carolina Gamecocks. USC head coach Steve Spurrier as well as his players refused to count the cold as a factor after the game. Whatever the reason, the Gamecock offense never got untracked throughout their bowl game in chilly Birmingham, and the Huskies took advantage of it, scoring after two USC punts, an unsuccessful USC 4th down attempt deep in their own territory, and a Stephen Garcia fumble.

The MVP of the game was clearly senior running back Andre Dixon, who rushed for 127 yards on 33 carries and one touchdown, setting a Papa Johns Bowl record.

Connecticut Head Coach Randy Edsall was effusive in his praise of his star, saying, "What a way for him to go out," said. "He was ready to go. When you get a guy like this and you get a big offensive line like we have and you keep pounding it, you're going to wear people down."

"I knew it was the last one and I always come out and put everything on the line," Dixon said. "When it is the last, it's a special one, and you always want to do what you can to help your team be successful."

The loss hit the Gamecock team hard. Though numbed by the cold, the media used to covering South Carolina was shocked by the lack of composure by redshirt sophomore quarterback Garcia, who struggled mightily to keep from crying and could barely speak in the post-game press conference. Sitting next to senior linebacker Eric Norwood, who reached over to give his teammate a pat on the back, Garcia replied to a question asking why this year's bowl loss was tougher on him than last year's Outback bowl loss by saying, "I am a lot closer with the seniors on this year's team and that's what makes it harder than anything, playing the way we did." He paused to compose himself, wiping his face and smearing his eye black before continuing, "It's really tough answering questions right now… really tough."

Garcia finished the game 16-of-38 passing for 129 yards with one interception and one fumble. He was also the Gamecocks' leading rusher, with 56 net yards on 15 attempts. With much discussion prior to the game of the importance of USC being successful rushing the ball if they were to win the game, perhaps the most telling statistic was that of Brian Maddox's day – he rushed twice for a total of two yards – the second rush a two yard run into the end zone for the Gamecocks' lone score of the day. Kenny Miles rushed six times for 24 yards.

"I thought Stephen Garcia was ready to play, but he wasn't," Spurrier said. "He's not ready to play. We've done a poor job of teaching Stephen to get rid of the ball, blame it on the coaches. He still takes a few sacks."

South Carolina gave up 13 first half points to the Huskies. After driving 29 yards to the Gamecock 37, Husky receiver Kashif Moore made a spectacular one handed catch on the right sideline at the 20 yard line, and then raced into the end zone for a touchdown without ever putting his other hand on the ball.

Steve Spurrier gambled on 4th and 1 from his own 32 and failed to convert, and UConn turned it into three points with a 33 yard field goal by Dave Teggart. Teggart added another three points with 8:56 left in the half with a XX yard field goal, putting the Huskies up 13-0.

In the second half, USC's Cliff Matthews jumped on a fumble that stopped a promising UConn drive, and the Gamecocks took over on their own 31. On their second attempt on a 4th and 1 in their own territory, the Gamecocks were successful, and kept the drive alive, but they couldn't keep the momentum going, and had to punt.

"We just thoroughly got beat," head coach Spurrier said. "There's no other way to say it."

Seldom used freshman safety Quin Smith gave the Gamecock offense a final shot at preventing the first shutout in Gamecock bowl history when he partially blocked a Husky punt, giving the Gamecocks the ball on the Huskies 40. Stephen Garcia made sure his team took advantage of it, hitting DL Moore on a 38 pass play to the UConn 2 yard line, and then Brian Maddox ran it in from 2 yards out.

The Huskies showed mercy at the end of the game. Taking over in Gamecock territory after a failed onside kick attempt, the Huskies drove the ball down to the Gamecock 2 yard line, but then took a knee on the final two plays of the game.

The game was played before a crowd of 45,254, the best attendance ever in the four year old Papa Johns Bowl. The Gamecocks finish the season 7-6, while the Huskies improved their record to 8-5.

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