Michigan and South Carolina will reacquaint themselves with one another on the first day of 2018, in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. The matchup, revealed Sunday, will be the fourth meeting between the Wolverines (8-4) and Gamecocks (8-4), and the first since the 2013 Outback Bowl won by South Carolina, 33-28.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) December 3, 2017
Michigan finished its regular season with back-to-back losses to Big Ten Championship Game participants Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Wolverines led in the third quarter of each game before losing 24-10 to the Badgers at Madison and 31-20 at home to the Buckeyes. Two of South Carolina’s losses are to College Football Playoff participants Clemson (34-10) and Georgia (24-10).
Here are five things to know about Michigan vs. South Carolina in the Outback Bowl:
Get ready for a lot of Jadeveon Clowney flashbacks
Michigan has won just one of the previous three meetings with South Carolina, back in 1985 when now-coach Jim Harbaugh was quarterback. Michigan was ranked No. 19 in the country and South Carolina No. 15, but it was Harbaugh and the Wolverines who won handily, 34-3, in Columbia behind an offense that produced 324 yards rushing and a defense that held the Gamecocks to 202 total yards.
The 2013 Outback Bowl was decided on a 32-yard pass by quarterback Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds to play, but that dramatic finish wasn’t the most memorable play of the game. South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney made highlight history with this tackle of Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Wolverines backfield.
Michigan in the Outback
The Wolverines have played in the Outback Bowl, and its predecessor the Hall of Fame Bowl, five times previously and hold a 3-2 record. Besides the loss to South Carolina in the 2013 game, Michigan lost to Alabama, 17-14, in the 1997 Outback Bowl.
The Wolverines are, however, 2-0 on the Hall of Fame Bowl, beating Alabama 28-24 in 1988 and then easily defeating N.C. State 42-7 in 1994. Their last victory in the Outback Bowl came in 2003 when the Wolverines got 193 yards from scrimmage and 4 rushing touchdowns by running back Chris Perry to beat Florida, 38-30. Quarterback John Navarre completed 21 of 36 passes for 319 yards and 1 touchdown in the victory.
Gamecocks on offense
South Carolina is not an offensive juggernaut. The Gamecocks ranked No. 12 in the SEC in both yards (340.2 per game) and points (24.1). Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley averaged 212.9 yards per game passing and threw 16 touchdowns. He also threw 11 interceptions, including 2 on one possession against Florida. South Carolina still won that game, 28-20. Florida is the one common opponent for Michigan and South Carolina. The Wolverines opened the season with a 33-17 win against the Gators in Arlington, Texas.
Sophomore wide receiver Bryan Edwards is South Carolina’s top receiver with 59 catches for 705 yards and 4 touchdowns. Junior tight end Hayden Hurst has 41 catches for 518 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Gamecocks averaged just 127.3 yards per game on the ground. Redshirt sophomores A.J. Turner (92 carries/517 yards) and Ty’Son Williams (92 carries/460 yards) split the bulk of the rushing duties, although Turner took over the No. 1 role late in the season.
Gamecocks on defense
Fifth-year senior linebacker Skai Moore leads South Carolina in tackles (88) and interceptions (3) but the Gamecocks are allowing 374.6 yards per game on defense, including 5.3 yards per play, which is No. 88 in the country among 127 FBS teams.
Moore is a legitimate player Michigan will have to game plan against. He has 8 tackles for loss this season and 14 career interceptions, tying him for the program’s all-time lead. He showed off his athleticism with a pick-6 this season against Arkansas.
Michigan also will have to keep an eye on sophomore defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum, who leads South Carolina with 13 tackles for loss and 6 sacks.
What’s at stake
Michigan has left a lot of people asking just how good it is this season. The Wolverines have 8 wins, but none of them are against teams with a winning record. Only Purdue (6-6) is going to a bowl game among the teams Michigan has defeated this season, so a win against South Carolina would send this young group into the offseason with a little more validity behind the hype the 2016 and ’17 recruiting classes produced.
There was promise in how Michigan played against Wisconsin and Ohio State, at least for three quarters, but South Carolina is a team Michigan has to expect to beat. A 9-4 finish sounds an awful lot better than 8-5. There is also conference pride on the line. Michigan began the season by defeating a team from the SEC. It would love to end the season that way, too.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters did not play against Ohio State because of a concussion suffered against Wisconsin. If he returns to start the bowl game, it lays the foundation for him entering the offseason as the No. 1 quarterback for 2018.