SHREVEPORT — It took South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier less than two quarters to abandon his game plan and go back to what he knows best.
“We’re going to chuck it down the field and see what happens,” Spurrier said.
Thanks to Dylan Thompson and Pharoh Cooper, the change of heart worked.
Thompson threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns, Cooper caught nine passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, and South Carolina beat Miami 24-21 on Saturday in the Independence Bowl.
South Carolina (7-6) has won a school-record four straight bowl games. Miami (6-7) ended the season on a four-game losing streak and hasn’t won in the postseason since 2006.
It didn’t look good for the Gamecocks early.
Miami took a 6-0 lead and was completely controlling the game thanks to Duke Johnson, who ran for 132 yards and caught five passes for 51 yards. South Carolina’s offense, meanwhile, wasn’t doing much of anything.
But in the middle of the second quarter, Spurrier decided to cut the passing game loose — even in cold and wet conditions.
The strategic change paid off immediately. Thompson hit Cooper on a long pass over the middle of the field and the 5-foot-11, 201-pound sophomore made a few more moves in the open field to finish off a 78-yard touchdown play and give the Gamecocks a 7-6 lead.
They never trailed again. South Carolina scored 17 straight points to take a 17-6 halftime lead.
It was a satisfying ending to a frustrating season for the Gamecocks, who started the season with aspirations of competing for Southeastern Conference and national titles before quickly fading into mediocrity.
Spurrier has had just one losing season in 25 seasons as a college head coach — back during his first season with Duke in 1987.
Miami’s Brad Kaaya threw for 236 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The touchdown came late in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard throw to Phillip Dorsett with 2:16 remaining to pull the Hurricanes within 24-21.
But they never got the ball back after South Carolina picked up a crucial first down on Mike Davis’ 3-yard run with 1:34 left.
It was an another impressive game for Johnson, the 5-foot-9, 206-pound junior who has likely played his last game with the Hurricanes and is expected to declare for the NFL draft.
But he had a costly fumble on Miami’s 29 with 5:24 remaining and South Carolina recovered.
Johnson also suffered a right ankle injury on the play and didn’t return to the game, though he was up and walking on the sideline in the final minutes. Johnson said he was “fine” after the game and “probably” could have returned if it had been needed.
“We are what our record is,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “But in so many ways we’re better than that.”
Two plays after Johnson’s fumble, Thompson hit Cooper on a spectacular pass and catch to get down to the Miami 2. Thompson fit the ball into a tight window and Cooper helped him by leaping over the defender to make the grab.
Thompson trotted into the end zone untouched on the next play and the Gamecocks had what proved to be an insurmountable 24-14 lead with 4:13 left.
Miami squandered some early opportunities, settling for field goals after long drives stalled. Michael Badgley made field goals from 27 and 26 yards to give the Hurricanes a 6-0 lead by early in the second quarter.
The Gamecocks never looked comfortable until Thompson’s 78-yard touchdown to Cooper. Thompson scrambled out of the pocket a few minutes later on a broken play before finding Davis on a 15-yard touchdown pass.
“The golden rule of a quarterback is to never throw back across the field,” Thompson said. “But Mike looked so naked out there, I just thought ‘I’ll give it a shot, it’s my last game.’ ”
The Gamecocks’ defense — maligned for much of the season — didn’t give up a touchdown until late in the third quarter when Gus Edwards’ 3-yard touchdown run and the Miami’s ensuing 2-point conversion pulled the Hurricanes to 17-14.
Cooper was the game’s offensive Most Valuable Player. South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore was the defensive MVP after making 11 tackles.