Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on Monday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The game is a rematch of the 2013 Outback Bowl, in which the Gamecocks defeated the Wolverines 33-28. Many remember that game for Jadeveon Clowney’s thundering hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith, but it was Bruce Ellington’s touchdown with 11 seconds left that secured the win for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina leads the all-time series 2-1. The Gamecocks defeated Michigan 17-14 in 1980, and the Wolverines beat the Gamecocks 34-3 in 1985.
Here are three keys to the Outback Bowl (Monday, noon ET, ESPN2) and predictions from Land of 10 Michigan writers Rachel Lenzi and Kevin Goheen.
Find out about QB Brandon Peters, WRs by opening passing game
The quarterback battle for 2018 starts with the final game of the 2017 season. No one knows if Shea Patterson will be eligible to play next season after transferring from Mississippi. Regardless, Brandon Peters has the opportunity to set the tone for 2018 in the Outback Bowl. He did a good job after replacing John O’Korn in the second half Oct. 28 against Rutgers and the next three games as the starter before sustaining a concussion Nov. 18 at Wisconsin. Peters was efficient, if not spectacular, by completing 37 of 64 passes for 486 yards, with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions in five games. He lost one fumble but overall put the Wolverines in good position offensively.
Peters and the offense have had five weeks to practice and show they can do more than plod down the field. The Wolverines averaged just 168.6 yards passing per game this season, ranking them 11th in the Big Ten, and didn’t top 200 yards through the air again after a 28-10 win at Purdue on Sept. 23. South Carolina has allowed nearly 230 yards passing per game this season. Michigan didn’t have a single pass play of 50 yards this season, and none of its receivers had a 100-yard game. The wide receivers as a group became a non-factor in the last month of the regular season, as tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry became the main targets.
If Michigan wants to win this game, the passing game must be a bigger factor in the offense.
Offensive line has to show more consistency
Left tackle Mason Cole is expected to start his 51st consecutive game for Michigan, a streak that began with the 2014 season opener against Appalachian State. That’s been the only consistent aspect of an offensive line that has taken care of business against lesser opponents but struggled to find cohesion in losses to Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
South Carolina’s defense offers the Wolverines’ offensive line an opportunity to send out Cole and fifth-year center Patrick Kugler on a high note. The Gamecocks allow an average of 374.6 yards per game, and 5.3 yards per play, which is 88th in the country. In order for Peters and the offense to open up the passing game, the offensive line has to give him time to throw. Michigan has allowed 2.8 sacks per game; only Maryland and Illinois allowed more sacks per game.
Play with the attitude that this game is important, because it is
This bowl game isn’t an afterthought. Both teams have something significant to play for beyond just winning. Michigan’s best win this season came against Purdue, a team that went 6-6 in the regular season and faced Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl. After consecutive 10-win campaigns in the first two seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines can notch their ninth victory of 2017 in this game. The program hasn’t had three consecutive 9-win seasons since 2002-04 when Lloyd Carr was the coach. The 2004 team that went 9-3 was the last Michigan team to win the Big Ten title.
Harbaugh has been criticized for his lack of success in big games, namely the 1-5 record against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan is 1-1 in bowl games with Harbaugh at the helm. The Wolverines beat Florida, 41-7, in the Citrus Bowl in January 2016. Michigan lost to Florida State 33-32 in the Orange Bowl in December 2016. Adding a second bowl win in three seasons and improving to 3-0 against SEC schools would be a positive for the Wolverines as they prepare for 2018.
Rachel Lenzi: Michigan 27, South Carolina 21
Kevin Goheen: Michigan 30, South Carolina 24