TAMPA — When posterity sifts through all the breathtaking ebb and flow, boxes up all the subplots and surreality, it likely will condense the 27th Outback Bowl into a pair of riveting snapshots.
Six-foot-6 South Carolina blunt-force purveyor Jadeveon Clowney dislodging one Michigan player from his helmet and 5-9 receiver Bruce Ellington dissecting the rest of the Wolverines' hearts.
Arguably the most exhilarating Outback Bowl ever ended with Ellington catching a 32-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Dylan Thompson with 11 seconds to go, giving No. 11 South Carolina a 33-28 victory before 54,527 at Raymond James Stadium on Tuesday.
The winner occurred 3:18 after No. 19 Michigan (8-5) capped a 10-play drive on junior Devin Gardner's third scoring pass of the game and roughly eight minutes after the most dizzying three-play sequence in Outback Bowl history.
"We haven't won one like that since I've been here in eight years," said Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, who might have set a personal record for game balls awarded.
"So hopefully, that will sort of tell us, 'Hey, we can do that. It's possible. Just hang in there.' "
Facing the nation's No. 2-ranked pass defense, the Gamecocks (11-2) ran only 53 plays to Michigan's 82 and had the ball nearly 16 fewer minutes.
But they converted five pass plays of 31 or more yards, duped the Wolverines on a 64-yard keeper by starting quarterback Connor Shaw and watched game MVP Ace Sanders return Michigan's first punt of the day 63 yards for a touchdown.
"There are a couple of things in football that you don't want to do, and No. 1, you can't give up big plays," Wolverines second-year coach Brady Hoke said. "We had three, really four big plays in the throw game that we can't allow to happen."
He'll be pondering the final one all the way back to Ann Arbor.
Five plays after Shaw exited after aggravating an injured foot, Thompson found Ellington on a play Spurrier calls "Steamer X" near the goal line.
A point guard for the Gamecocks basketball team, Ellington caught the pass near the 2, juked a defender and dashed to his left into the end zone.
"I saw the safety coming, so I just wanted to make him miss and make it look a little more interesting," Ellington said.
As if this game needed more interest.
The final 15:02 featured four lead changes alone, highlighted by Sanders' 31-yard catch from Shaw with 8:06 to play, giving South Carolina a 27-22 lead.
Two plays earlier, Michigan had executed a fake punt — by inches. The play after that, Clowney sliced his way into the Wolverines backfield just as Vincent Smith was taking the handoff, crashed his helmet into Smith's chest and sent the ball — and Smith's helmet and dreadlocks — flying.
"A car crash," Sanders said when asked how the hit sounded.
Clowney, a first-team All-America end and potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, said Smith had hit him earlier.
"He laughed about it," Clowney said. "I said, 'I'm going to get you later on.' "
After Clowney separated players from game balls, Spurrier distributed them liberally. Both Shaw and Thompson, who teamed for 341 passing yards and four touchdowns, received one, as did the Gamecocks' seniors.
"(Shaw) sort of hobbled off, and Dylan was right there on call; and obviously, no hesitation to (run) him in there," Spurrier said of the final series. "Both those young men are just super team-oriented. There are no jealousies; nothing."
The other quarterback tandem wasn't shabby either. Under duress most of the day, Gardner still finished 18-for-36 for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
Meantime, former starter Denard Robinson, a utility player since hurting a nerve in his throwing elbow in late October, ran for a game-high 100 yards and finished as the NCAA's all-time rushing leader (4,495 yards) among quarterbacks. Robinson eclipsed West Virginia's Pat White by 15 yards.
Small consolation to Hoke.
"You know what the answer is. (The season) wasn't successful," he said when asked about the 2012 campaign.
"You compete to win championships."
Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected]