Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson (17) reacts after he threw the game winning touchdown against the Michigan Wolverines. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
TAMPA - One last-chance touchdown drive to make. Two quarterbacks to do it. No wonder the Head Ball Coach looked so happy afterward, with his shirt tails pulled out after a long day.
This was a big game for No. 10 South Carolina and its tale of two quarterbacks. This was a significant moment for Steve Spurrier, who still remains on the outside looking in, if you're discussing SEC glory.
A stirring comeback Tuesday, a last-minute winning touchdown, a 33-28 Outback Bowl victory over No. 22 Michigan ... and perhaps a preview of what could be ahead.
"We haven't won one like that since I've been here,'' Spurrier said of a game saved by a touchdown with 11 seconds left. "Hopefully that will tell us we can do that. It's possible.''
Memo to 2013: Beware the Gamecocks.
South Carolina, which leaves this season 11-2 with gobs of important Gamecocks players coming back, is just a bundle of arguments for what might be possible.
The quarterback position, for instance. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson intend to prove it is possible that two guys can fight for it, share it, and not end up wanting to put skunks in each other's locker.
Shaw threw two touchdown passes against Michigan. So did Thompson. Shaw started the winning drive with five completions. Thompson finished it with a touchdown pass.
Shaw earned a game ball afterward. Come to think of it, so did Thompson.
"I don't know if I've ever given two quarterbacks the game ball,'' said Spurrier, an old passing master himself who has been known to stirfry ineffective signal callers.
Meanwhile, Jadeveon Clowney aims to establish the idea that it is possible for a defensive end to win the Heisman, and his 2013 campaign officially opened Tuesday in the second half when he separated Denard Robinson from the football - and his winged Michigan helmet. Then Clowney picked up the fumble with one hand and helped turn around the game, as Heisman candidates must.
One of his teammates said later the collision sounded the like a train wreck, and Clowney didn't have to wait long to see the replay.
"As soon I was went over to the sideline, it was already on YouTube,'' Clowney said.
How would he know that? Hmmm. There appear to have been some active cell phones on the South Carolina sideline. "Coach hears about this,'' Clowney said, "and they're going to be in some trouble.''
Spurrier no doubt craves the chance to show it is possible for South Carolina to own the SEC, and perhaps the BCS chances beyond. He won seven conference titles at Florida, but never as a Gamecock. He is 67 years old. Who knows how many chances are left to prove there still is championship-strength magic beneath that visor?
But both quarterbacks return, and Clowney, and Outback Bowl MVP Ace Sanders, and Bruce Ellington, who caught the winning touchdown pass. So the Gamecocks will be fascinating to watch. Especially whoever lines up behind center.
Two quarterbacks and one football is a scenario that often goes bust, but Spurrier has made it work this season, through injuries and questions and SEC defenses. In Tuesday's final minutes, it was Shaw's game to win, until he was limping too much on a bad foot to do it. So Thompson won it, with his second scoring drive of the game. Spurrier just kept pushing quarterback buttons, and hoped touchdowns popped out.
But seldom is a 70-yard game-saving drive in the final three minutes a two-quarterback operation.
"There's no jealousies. Nothing,'' Spurrier said.
"We trust each other on this team. We pull for each other, and that's no different with the quarterback situation,'' Thompson said. "I want Connor Shaw, every time he steps on the field, to go 25 for 25 for 400 yards and five touchdowns. Every time. Honestly, I think he wants the same thing for me.
"I'm sure you can go back and watch it and when he threw a touchdown, I was probably the first one on the field to congratulate him, and vice versa.''
Can that last?
"We both looked at each other after the game and said, we can't wait until next year, and whatever that entails,'' Thompson said.
And if Spurrier can't make up his mind, he can always use both. It worked well enough Tuesday.