Notre Dame wins Gator Bowl 45-38 in highest-scoring affair in Gator Bowl history
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tyler Buchner accounted for five touchdowns to help offset two interceptions returned for TDs, and No. 19 Notre Dame beat 20th-ranked South Carolina 45-38 in a wild TaxSlayer Bowl on Friday.
The highest-scoring game in Gator Bowl history was filled with big plays and memorable moments. But 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.
Buchner, who regained the starting job after Drew Pyne entered the transfer portal following the regular-season finale, threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 61 yards and two scores.
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.
Notre Dame (9-4, No. 21 CFP) overcame a 14-point deficit and won despite South Carolina's scoring on the two pick-6s and 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.
Notre Dame played without All-American tight end Michael Mayer, standout edge rusher Isaiah Foskey, cornerback Cam Hart and defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola.
Notre Dame: The Irish gave coach Marcus 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.
South Carolina: Special teams are usually coach Shane 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.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are expected to land highly coveted transfer quarterback Sam Hartman, a three-year starter at Wake Forest who holds the Atlantic Coast Conference's record for passing touchdowns with 110. He will have one year of eligibility remaining.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have numerous holes to fill, none bigger than at offensive coordinator after Marcus Satterfield left for Nebraska. All eyes will be on his replacement, former Arkansas tight ends coach Dowell Loggains, in spring practice.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/APTop25 Sign up for the AP's college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25