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Cougars come up short in Liberty Bowl Loss
Kevin Kolb, making his 50th start at quarterback for Houston (10-4) and leading the nation's sixth-best offense, finished 26-of-39 for 386 yards and three touchdowns.
"We felt like we self-inflicted some things that stopped some of our drives," Houston coach Art Briles said.
Houston led 28-27 at the half - a Liberty Bowl record for points in a half - but South Carolina held the Cougars to 63 yards in the third quarter when the Gamecocks took control. They sacked Kolb three times, forced two turnovers and stopped the Cougars twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars and Gamecocks combined for 588 yards in the first half, much of it just before halftime. The second quarter took 61 minutes, and a game that was tied at 7 went haywire. In the final three minutes of the half, four TDs were scored in a span 12 plays - the last a 77-yard TD catch by Houston's Vincent Marshall with 11 seconds left.
The Cougars didn't score in the second half until Jackie Battle ran in from 3 yards out with 5:42 left. The 2-point conversion cut South Carolina's lead to 44-36.
Cougars receiver Vincent Marshall, who set a bowl record with 201 yards receiving, said South Carolina's zone defense took away the middle of the field.
Ryan Succop kicked a 45-yard field goal into winds gusting up to 20 mph on the Gamecocks' opening drive of the second half to put South Carolina ahead to stay at 30-28. Mitchell padded the lead with a pair of 43-yard TD passes to Kenny McKinley, the last with 7:39 to go for a 44-28 lead.
Houston ruined its best scoring chance on the drive after Succop's field goal.
In the shotgun on third-and-goal at the 8, a bad snap went wide right of Kolb, who tried to chase down the ball and kicked it out of bounds for a penalty. That forced Houston to punt from midfield after having first-and-goal.
Briles credited the South Carolina fans with making it tough to hear, forcing the Cougars to go to a silent count.
"It disrupted our exchange out of the shotgun. That was a big turning point," Briles said.
South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley stopped Anthony Alridge short on fourth-and-4 with 9:31 left at midfield, forcing the Cougars to turn it over on downs to kill another drive.