Notre Dame defeats Gamecocks in TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

Published: Dec. 30, 2022 at 6:21 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2022 at 10:52 PM EST
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WCSC/AP) - Notre Dame’s Tyler Buchner accounted for seven of the 11 touchdowns in the highest-scoring Gator Bowl in history. Two of them he’d like to forget.

Buchner threw three touchdown passes and ran for two scores to help offset two interceptions returned for TDs, and the 19th-ranked Fighting Irish beat No. 20 South Carolina 45-38 on Friday.

The back-and-forth game was filled with big plays and memorable moments. Buchner delivered the knockout blow when he found tight end Mitchell Evans wide open for a 16-yard touchdown on a third-and-7 play with 1:38 remaining.

The Gamecocks weren’t able to overcome that last touchdown.

The 19th-ranked Gamecocks started strong over the 21st-ranked Fighting Irish, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter. Notre Dame managed one touchdown that quarter, ending with a 21-7 score favoring USC.

A play highlight of the second quarter was a 75-yarder from Notre Dame’s Tyler Buchner to Logan Diggs. At halftime, the Gamecocks led the Fighting Irish 24-17. But Notre Dame came back strong after halftime, scoring two touchdowns to USC’s single touchdown. With less than a minute left in the third quarter, Notre Dame scored a field goal with their second touchdown, tying the score at 31-31.

The fourth quarter began with another touchdown which USC answered with one of their own, bringing the score to another tie at 38-38.

“The game we played was great. We won the game, and I couldn’t be happier,” Buchner said. “But for me, personally, I didn’t play to the standard I wanted to play. I think I accounted for two extra touchdowns they didn’t want me to account for. That’s not the standard I hold myself to.”

Buchner, who regained the starting job after Drew Pyne entered the transfer portal following the regular-season finale, threw for 274 yards. He also ran for 61 more. He had a 75-yard TD pass to Logan Diggs and a 44-yarder to Braden Lenzy — both one-play drives.

But his three interceptions nearly proved too much to overcome.

O’Donnell Fortune returned one of them 100 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and DQ Smith returned another 47 yards for a score in the first. But Buchner bounced back from both miscues to earn his first victory in three career starts.

“He’s special,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said.

The Irish (9-4, No. 21 CFP) overcame a 14-point deficit and won despite South Carolina scoring on the two interception returns and another on a trick play on special teams. Punter Kai Kroger connected with long-snapper Hunter Rogers for one of the oddest TDs in bowl lore.

Spencer Rattler completed 29 of 44 passes for 246 yards for the Gamecocks (8-5, No. 19 CFP), with an interception and two touchdowns to Xavier Legette.

South Carolina was missing a number of key starters, including running back MarShawn Lloyd, versatile tight end Jaheim Bell, tight end Austin Stogner, defensive lineman Zacch Pickens, safety Devonni Reed, cornerbacks Cam Smith and Darius Rush, and receivers Josh Vann and Jalen Brooks.

“For us to be down that many players and for those guys to play their butts off like they did and leave everything out there like they did, I’m really really, really proud to be their coach,” Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer said. “In that locker room there’s a hurtin’ group of guys that left it all out there.”

Notre Dame played without All-American tight end Michael Mayer, standout edge rusher Isaiah Foskey, cornerback Cam Hart and defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola.

“This is what real life is about: the ability to respond to situations,” Freeman said.

The Irish gave Freeman his first victory following a lengthy layoff. Notre Dame lost its bowl game last year to Oklahoma State after naming Freeman the head coach and dropped its season opener at Ohio State.

Special teams are usually Beamer’s specialty, but he had a few uncharacteristic mistakes to go along with the punter-to-long snapper touchdown pass. Dakereon Joyner was flagged for a block in the back in the second quarter, a call that got Beamer so irate that he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Those penalties resulted in a 45-yard swing. The Gamecocks also were flagged in the second half for having two guys wearing the same number on a punt and twice for delay of game.

The Gamecocks and Irish have met four previous times but had not faced each other before this game since 1984.

This was the 25th bowl game the Gamecocks appeared in and their fifth trip to Jacksonville and the Gator Bowl, but the first since 1987.