Orlando - No. 20 Nebraska jumped to a 13-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, but No. 9 South Carolina scored the game's final 21 points in the Huskers' 30-13 loss in the Capital One Bowl Monday at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Nebraska ended its 2011 season with a 9-4 overall record (5-3 Big Ten) to cap the Huskers' fourth consecutive nine-win season under fourth-year coach Bo Pelini. The Gamecocks finished with an 11-2 overall record to set the South Carolina record for most victories in a season. USC finished 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference.
In a game filled with big plays and missed opportunities, Nebraska struck first when sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez hit freshman wide receiver Kenny Bell on a 30-yard touchdown strike just over three minutes into the game. It was Bell's third touchdown catch of the season and gave NU a quick 6-0 lead with 11:58 left in the first quarter.
However, Brett Maher's extra-point attempt was blocked and scooped up by South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, who raced all the way to the end zone for a two-point return. The block ended a streak of 159 consecutive PATs for the Huskers, and the return was the first against Nebraska since Colorado's Greg Biekert accomplished the rare feat in Boulder on Nov. 2, 1991.
Trailing 6-2, South Carolina took its first lead of the day on quarterback Connor Shaw's one-yard plunge to cap an 11-play, 55-yard drive with 6:04 left in the first quarter and give USC a 9-6 edge.
The Gamecocks appeared to have the Huskers stopped on the next drive, but an illegal hands to the face penalty on USC at the line of scrimmage on Nebraska's punt, gave the NU drive new life. The Huskers capitalized on the Gamecock mistake when Ameer Abdullah burst across the goal line from one yard out to give NU a 13-9 lead with 3:33 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska's defense stymied South Carolina the rest of the first half, and the Husker offense had success moving the ball on the Gamecocks throughout the half.
After the Blackshirts forced a punt on 4th-and-17 by USC, NU took over on its own 34 and quickly moved into scoring range after back-to-back runs by Rex Burkhead and a 26-yard connection from Martinez to Burkhead put the Huskers on the USC 29. A 14-yard reverse to Bell moved NU to the 15, before Burkhead gained seven yards on two more carries to pound the ball to the USC 8.
On 3rd-and-3, Abdullah took the pitch and appeared headed for a first down at the USC 5, when D.J. Swearinger delivered a monstrous hit on the ball and sent it flying high into the air. The fumble was recovered by USC's Aldrick Fordham at the 15 to end a Husker scoring chance.
South Carolina flipped the field on the Huskers in a hurry, when Shaw hit Alshon Jeffery on a 78-yard pass to the NU 7 on the first play after the recovery. But the Blackshirts kept the Gamecocks out of the end zone and Jay Wooten misfired wide left on a 20-yard field goal to keep the Huskers in front, 13-9.
Nebraska marched again, picking up a key 4th-and-1 at the NU 29, before Martinez connected with Ben Cotton for 22 yards on 3rd-and-6 to move the Huskers to the USC 31. However, on 3rd-and-14 at the South Carolina 35, Martinez's pass was intercepted by Gilmore to end another NU chance for at least a field goal.
South Carolina started at its own 29 and appeared out of range for any scoring chance at their own 49 with just seven seconds left in the half. But Shaw's Hail Mary pass toward the end zone was hauled down by Jeffery near the NU 3, and he spun around and plunged across the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown as time expired at the end of the first half. South Carolina headed to the locker room with a 16-13 lead.
Nebraska started the second half with the ball and quickly cruised to the South Carolina doorstep again after Martinez's 36-yard run on an option keeper to the left side. But 1st-and-Goal at the USC 8 ended with 4th-and-Goal at the USC 18, before Maher missed the first field goal of his career from inside 40 yards when his 35-yard attempt sailed wide right with 10:45 left in the third quarter.
The defenses shut down the offenses the rest of the third quarter, before the South Carolina offense broke through on its opening possession of the fourth quarter. Shaw hit Ace Sanders for a key 23-yard pass on 3rd-and-18 to give the Gamecocks a first down at the NU 11. Two plays later Shaw hit Kenny Miles for a nine-yard touchdown pass to put the Gamecocks up 23-13 with 12:25 left.
Nebraska's next offensive possession managed just one first down, before USC marched 71 yards on 13 plays in 6:25 capped by Miles' three-yard touchdown to put the Gamecocks up 30-13.
Martinez was sacked on three consecutive plays to end the Huskers' final offensive possession.
Nebraska finished the game with 253 yards of total offense, while South Carolina managed 351 yards. The Huskers outgained USC on the ground, 137-121, but Nebraska had 100 yards on the ground at halftime.
Martinez completed 10-of-16 passes for 116 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Shaw completed 11-of-17 passes for 230 yards, including four receptions by Jeffery for 148 yards and a score. Jeffery was ejected along with Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard late in the third quarter while going head-to-head away from the ball on pass route.
Burkhead led all rushers with 89 yards on 23 carries, including 71 yards on 15 carries in the first half alone. Martinez added 16 carries for 37 yards, but was knocked back for 45 yards in losses while being sacked six times. Burkhead was also NU's leading receiver with 35 yards on five catches, while Bell added three catches for 53 yards.
Miles led South Carolina with 67 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown, while Shaw added 42 yards and a score on 19 carries despite being dropped for 31 yards in losses on four sacks.
Final: #9 South Carolina 30, #20 Nebraska 13
Monday, Jan. 2, 2012
Capital One Bowl
Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
First Quarter (NU, 13-9)
NEB - Kenny Bell 30 pass from Taylor Martinez (Brett Maher kick blocked), 3 plays, 46 yards, 0:56, NU 6-0
USC - Stephon Gilmore 2PAT return, NU 6-2
USC - Connor Shaw 1 run (Jay Wooten kick), 11 plays, 55 yards, 5:46, USC 9-6
NEB - Ameer Abdullah 1 run (Maher kick), 8 plays, 60 yards, 2:31, NEB 13-9
Second Quarter (USC, 16-13)
USC - 0:00 - Alshon Jeffery 51 pass from Shaw (Wooten kick) - 3 plays, 71 yards, 0:38, USC 16-13
Third Quarter (USC, 16-13)
Fourth Quarter (USC, 30-13)
USC - 12:25 - Kenny Miles 9 pass from Shaw (Wooten kick) - 5 plays, 41 yards, 2:26, USC 23-13
USC - 3:05 - Miles 3 run (Wooten kick) - 13 plays, 71 yards, 6:20, USC 30-13
Final: #9 South Carolina 30, #20 Nebraska 13
Time of Game: 3:03
Game Start: 12:03 p.m. (central)