JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — 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 touchdowns, 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 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 to tie game at 38, and DQ Smith returned another 47 yards for a score in the first quarter. 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.
Notre Dame: 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.
South Carolina: 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 players 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.