South Carolina's game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left in the Outback Bowl was the Gamecocks' second-best highlight of the day. It takes a special play to knock a touchdown like that off the top spot.
But South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney made a hit in the fourth quarter that they should talk about in Columbia as long as folks talk about football.
Clowney forced a fumble with a stunning play from his defensive end position, one play after officials blew a call and gave Michigan a first down. That turnover led to a touchdown for the Gamecocks, who were trailing 22-21 with a little more than eight minutes to go at the time of the hit. South Carolina won the game on a 32-yard touchdown from Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington in the final seconds, beating Michigan 33-28.
But that hit by Clowney ... wow, that hit.
Clowney, a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender for 2013 even though he is a defensive end and it seems like defensive players aren't allowed to win the Heisman, came off the ball fast and got into the backfield with a tremendous burst. He met Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the backfield a split second after Smith got the handoff. He absolutely leveled Smith.
The vicious hit knocked Smith's helmet off his head and separated him from the ball. It was the kind of hit that legitimized every great thing that has been said about Clowney - not that anyone had any doubts. Amazingly, Smith appeared to be OK.
As if the hit wasn't enough, Clowney then grabbed the fumble with his left hand like a loaf of bread and tried to get up and almost broke free. South Carolina scored on a juggling 31-yard touchdown catch by Ace Sanders after the turnover to take a 27-22 lead.
ESPN's sideline announcer said that half the South Carolina team watching the play erupted in cheers on the Clowney hit and the other half had its jaws wide open in shock at the play. We understand.
South Carolina's offense made sure that great play was not wasted. A final dramatic drive was capped by Thompson - who was rotated in the game, and didn't start the final drive but came in when Connor Shaw was injured - who stood in against the rush and delivered a pass to Ellington, who slipped behind Michigan's defense and scored to win the game.
That play was great. Clowney's play was mind-blowing. And he'll be back next year before he's the top pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
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