Ryan Brewer didn’t fit the mold of an Ohio State tailback, so he wound up at South Carolina.
The Buckeyes’ loss turned out to be the Gamecocks’ gain in today’s Outback Bowl.
Brewer gained 219 total yards and scored three touchdowns, pacing a 24-7 victory over Ohio State that capped a remarkable comeback for Lou Holtz and South Carolina. The Gamecocks, winless in 1999 and losers of 21 straight entering the season, finished the most dramatic one-year turnaround in Southeastern Conference history.
Brewer ran for 7,656 yards and scored 761 points as a prep star in Troy, Ohio, but wasn’t recruited by Ohio State. On Monday, he rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries and scored on runs of 7 and 2 yards, as well as a 28-yard screen pass play.
“I never dreamed anything like this would happen,” Brewer, the unlikely MVP said. “My only thought was to go out there and play the best that I can.”
A wide receiver most of this season, Brewer was part of a platoon of runners Holtz used in place of Derek Watson, a 1,000-yard rusher the coach suspended for the game for violating a team rule.
The 5-10, 210-pound sophomore gained 66 yards rushing and caught 33 passes for 326 yards and one touchdown during the regular season.
“I said, ‘You’re not here to prove anything to anybody at Ohio State. You’re here to help your teammates.’ And that he certainly did,” Holtz said. “The longer the game went, the better he played.”
Like Brewer, Holtz grew up in Ohio and got a lot of satisfaction out of the victory. He beat Ohio State for the first time in five tries, improving his bowl record to 11-8-2 in a career that includes stops at William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota and Notre Dame.
It was another frustrating day for Ohio State coach John Cooper, who fell to 3-8 in bowl games at the Big Ten school. The Buckeyes (8-4), who avoided a shutout when offensive lineman Mike Gurr recovered Jonathan Wells’ fumble in the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown, never have beaten a SEC team (0-6) in the postseason.
“Obviously, I’m very disappointed in the way we played,” Cooper said. “I wish we could have been a little more competitive”
South Carolina entered the season on a 21-game losing streak and pulled off the biggest regular-season turnaround in the SEC by going 7-4 after finishing 0-11 in Holtz’s first season.
The Gamecocks dropped their final three regular-season games to Tennessee, Florida and Clemson to tumble out of the Top 25, but arrived in Tampa brimming with confidence that they could play with Ohio State.
“This was our day, and we were not going to be denied,” Holtz said. South Carolina’s eight victories tied for the second-most in school history.
“It was important for us because we wanted to win as many games as any team, with the exception of one. We wanted to win it because we wanted to finish nationally ranked. We wanted to win it to have a catapult to next year.”
South Carolina had some success moving the ball in the first half, but couldn’t get it into the end zone. Jason Corse kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter. However, he missed a 34-yarder and a fake field goal play resulted in a sack.
Ohio State was far less imaginative on offense, opening the game with five straight runs by Wells and eventually stalling on downs when the tailback was stopped for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the South Carolina 20.
A Messy Fourth Quarter
The Buckeyes didn’t threaten again until Courtland Bullard made a diving interception to give the offense its best field position of the day. Steve Bellisari threw 17 yards to Vanness Provitt to the South Carolina 24, but three plays later Dan Stultz’s 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right on the final play of the half.
Kalimba Edwards sacked Bellisari, forcing a fumble that Cleveland Pinkney recovered to set up Brewer’s first touchdown for a 10-0 lead. A defensive breakdown on Ken-Yon Rambo’s 65-yard reception, though, allowed Ohio State to get back into the game.
Gurr recovered Wells’ goal-line fumble two plays later, trimming South Carolina’s lead to 10-7. Brewer scored on a screen pass from Phil Petty early in the fourth quarter and added his second TD run with 6:11 to go to put the game out of reach.
Petty completed 9 of 19 passes for 175 yards and threw one interception. Bellisari was 14-of-25 for 157 yards with an interception, and Wells finished with 52 yards rushing on 14 attempts for the Buckeyes.
“This was not a one-man performance,” Holtz said. “It was a total team victory. We were a very good football team today.”