At a certain point on New Year’s Day — say, around 3:30 p.m. — there existed the possibility that after four bowl games, the SEC’s lone win would come via Vanderbilt. It was possible.
However, with second-half pushes by Georgia and South Carolina, the country’s preeminent conference walked away with just one loss (Mississippi State) and plenty of excitement. Georgia, in particular, impressed after a lethargic start to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., running away from Nebraska, 45-31. It was the most points Georgia had ever scored in a bowl game. Behind the play of quarterback Aaron Murray, who has struggled in bowl games (and other prominent games) over his career but decimated the Cornhuskers, throwing for 427 yards and five touchdowns, the Bulldogs ended an ugly streak of uglier bowl performances.
It was a heck of a performance for Murray and his offense.
The theme of the day: Georgia belonged in a BCS bowl.
It’s official: In another record-breaking performance aside from Murray, Georgia defense end Jarvis Jones entered his name into the all-time school record books.
On an intentional grounding call that was credited as a sack, Jones surpassed Georgia legend David Pollack for the program’s single-season sack record, setting the mark at 14.5. Even more impressive, he did not even play an entire season, missing some time due to injury and playing two triple-option teams. In the big moments, Jones stepped up.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that he will become a top-of-the-line NFL Draft pick in April by foregoing his senior season, but in his brief time in Athens, he has proven himself to be one of the most dominating defensive forces to ever don the silver britches.
Being decisive: Georgia’s talented defense did not deliver a dominant performance — allowing 443 yards and 31 points — but buckled down in the second half following a Rex Burkhead touchdown with 9:42 remaining in the third quarter. From there on out, the Bulldogs did not allow a single point.
However, it would have been more than enough for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s offense, which ran up 589 yards on big play after big play in the passing game. Murray connected on touchdown passes of 29, 75, 49, 24 and 87 yards, respectively.
Georgia’s only other touchdown came from star freshman Todd Gurley, who tallied 125 yards on 23 carries to pace the Bulldog offense and open up Murray’s passing lanes.
Overall, a decimating performance for a team that believed (rightfully so) that it belonged on a bigger stage this bowl season.
South Carolina 33, Michigan 28
With a Dylan Thompson pass to receiver Bruce Ellington, Michigan’s hope of offering Big Ten bragging rights to Commissioner Jim Delany this bowl season faded. With less than a minute remaining, South Carolina had the ball down 28-27, and eventually drove down to set up the 32-yard strike to Ellington.
After clinching the Outback Bowl win and leading his team to its fourth-consecutive victory over Clemson, it appears coach Steve Spurrier’s quarterback position is in good hands with Thompson. He finished with 117 yards on 7-of-9 passing and two touchdowns while splitting time with starter Connor Shaw.
That time social media exploded: Jadeveon Clowney came dangerously close to breaking Twitter on Tuesday.
With a fourth-quarter demolition hit against Michigan running back Vincent Smith, the nation’s best player — sorry, Johnny Manziel supporters, this is not a debate — instantly became the talk of the football world once more. By meeting Smith in the backfield right as he was receiving a hand-off, Clowney sent the runner’s helmet catapulting into space and forced a fumble, which, of course, he subsequently picked up with one hand like ordinary feats just took place. It was the hit of the year.
So, what’s scarier: The fact that Jadeveon Clowney can hit someone so hard his helmet end up in Disney World or the fact that the defensive end is just a sophomore?
Ace in the hole: Ace Sanders is one of the most electric players in college football.
Sanders once again proved his big-play ability against Michigan, returning a punt 63 yards for a touchdown and also hauling in two receiving touchdowna. Michigan had no answer for Sanders, who was Shaw’s primary target for most of the day. The junior finished with nine receptions for 92 yards and three total touchdowns. For his part, Shaw was a true dual threat, much like the Wolverines are accustomed to in the days of Denard Robinson.
Shaw eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground and through the air, ending up with 224 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 20
Pat Fitzgerald has done a tremendous job with the Northwestern program, and it paid off with the Wildcats’ first 10-win season since 1995.
But even more impressive is the fact that this is the first bowl win for Northwestern since the 1940s — the last bowl win came at the 1949 Rose Bowl. Bowl futility is no longer defined by Northwestern (or Vanderbilt, for that matter).
Northwestern, overall, just outplayed the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball in this 34-20 victory. The Wildats outgained Mississippi State 358-293 and completely shutdown the Bulldogs’ passing game. Despite dealing with three combined interceptions from quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter, Northwestern was fully in control as the clock ticked away in the fourth quarter.
With about two minutes remaining, Fitzgerald was drenched in a Gatorade bath.
Pick-fest: Tyler Russell now leads all football players on Earth in interceptions in 2013.
For a quarterback that limited mistakes so well his entire junior season — he threw just six picks in his previous 12 games — Russell struggled in his Gator Bowl appearance, throwing five interceptions to the Wildcats. Even worse, many came in big situations, as one was returned for a touchdown and the other all but sealed Mississippi State’s fate in the fourth quarter. Safe to say, it was a career-worst outing for the junior. Not even Alabama and LSU were this tough on the stat line.
Russell finished 12-of-28 for just 106 yards. He added two touchdowns to go along with his four picks.
For a brief time, coach Dan Mullen gave freshman Dak Prescott a look under center, although primarily in running situations. He finished with two rushes for 20 yards.
When it counts: As Mullen and his staff look back at this game, the turnovers will obviously hurt, but the team’s failure to execute on third down will be remembered as well.
Mississippi State went 1-of-11 on third down conversions in the game, coming up short time after time. Its inability to extend drives ultimately led to the team’s demise.
On the flip side, Northwestern converted on 10 of its 19 third downs.