BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Andre Dixon rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown and resilient Connecticut ended a trying season with a 20-7 victory over South Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl on Saturday.
The Huskies (8-5) are 3-1 in bowl games since moving up to Division I-A (now FBS) in 2002. They won their final three regular-season games and overcame the October stabbing death of cornerback Jasper Howard to reach a bowl.
UConn made the most of the trip. The nation's 95th-rated pass defense throttled South Carolina (7-6) and quarterback Stephen Garcia while relying on Dixon's 33 carries to control the ball.
Dixon was the Most Valuable Player and joined teammate Jordan Todman as 1,000-yard rushers, the first time two UConn backs have surpassed that mark in the same season.
Garcia completed just 16 of 38 passes for 129 yards while gaining 56 yards on 15 carries. He lost a fumble, was intercepted once and didn't get much help.
UConn had a pristine performance, with zero penalties and turnovers.
The Gamecocks avoided their first shutout in three seasons on Brian Maddox 's 2-yard touchdown run with 3:24 left. Their only other possession ending in UConn territory resulted in a botched field goal attempt.
It was UConn's first meeting with a Southeastern Conference team, and the Huskies were in control throughout. They downed the ball inside South Carolina's 5-yard line at the end instead of adding to the score just as coach Randy Edsall was doused by his celebrating players.
It was another difficult postseason chapter for the Gamecocks, who are now 4-11 in bowl games and 1-3 under coach Steve Spurrier. They have been outscored 51-17 the past two years including a loss to Iowa in last season's Outback Bowl.
This one was marred by dropped passes, a missed interception and costly penalties that kept a mostly red-and-black clad crowd subdued - and steadily shrinking by the fourth quarter. Garcia also faced frequent pressure and was sacked three times and flushed out of the pocket plenty more.
Leading receiver Alshon Jeffery was held to three catches for 28 yards, all in the first half. Tailback Kenny Miles had just six carries for 24 yards.
Dixon's 10-yard touchdown with 13:12 left effectively put the game away. Jesse Simpson had set the Huskies up at the Gamecocks' 29-yard line by forcing Garcia to fumble, knocking it away from behind at the end of a run.
A South Carolina team that pounded Clemson with 58 runs in a win to finish the regular season finished with 26 rushes for 76 yards.
UConn never appeared daunted playing in SEC country, jumping ahead 13-0. Kashif Moore snagged the ball one-handed down the right sideline for a 37-yard touchdown catch from Zach Frazer in the first quarter. Dave Teggard then kicked field goals of 33 and 44 yards. The first kick was set up when Garcia was stopped on a sneak on fourth-and-1 from South Carolina's 32.
South Carolina didn't even manage its initial first down until midway through the second quarter, and that took Garcia converting a third-and-16.
That drive ended with three straight incompletions. A 52-yard field goal attempt was botched when holder Stephen Flint bobbled the ball and had to try to run for it. South Carolina wouldn't get more chances before the game was out of reach.
South Carolina's sloppy play continued into the second half. Running into the kicker and roughing the passer calls helped UConn keep its first drive alive for more than seven minutes, though it ended with a fumble.
Then, cornerback Akeem Auguste dropped an easy interception with nothing between him and the end zone. The Gamecocks quickly gave the ball back with Garcia's fumble.