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Outback Bowl Preview: South Carolina looks to close strong vs. Michigan

The Gamecocks and Wolverines will fight it out in Tampa.

Clemson v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

2017 OUTBACK BOWL PREVIEW

SERIES HISTORY

This is the fourth meeting between the Michigan Wolverines and South Carolina Gamecocks and second time they’ve met in the Outback Bowl. In their last meeting, South Carolina won the 2013 Outback Bowl by 33-28. The teams split a home and home in the 1980’s with the road team winning both matchups.


HOW WE GOT HERE

Michigan and South Carolina both started their seasons with neutral site victories over teams that turned out to be (relative in one case) disappointments. The Gamecocks defeated North Carolina State, a dark horse pick by some to compete for the ACC, 35-28 in Charlotte while Michigan beat (then) no. 17 Florida by 16 points at JerryWorld.

South Carolina would lose two of their first three SEC games before getting on a roll over the second half of the SEC slate. After beating Missouri in the second week of the season, the Gamecocks dropped one of the most baffling results in the SEC all season. The ten point loss at home to Kentucky was the nadir of the SC season and they barely escaped with a one point win over Louisiana Tech after trailing 13-0 in the second half.

After a road loss at Texas A&M, the Gamecocks got on a bit of a roll. Wins over Arkansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida were sandwiched around a two touchdown loss at Georgia. The eight win regular season is a two win improvement over 2016, but not all has been well. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has already been removed from his position as a results of the offense ranking 92nd in points per drive and 88th in the S&P+ offensive rankings.

Michigan, meanwhile, had everything going as planned (at least on the scoreboard) until October. Then the wheels came off. After losing at home to Michigan State and escaping at Indiana in overtime when Indiana’s offense went full Debord, the Wolverines got outscored 21-0 in the second half at Penn State to turn an eight point deficit into a 29 point blowout loss.

Losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State closed out the season and it was not until Purdue won their bowl game that Michigan had beaten a team with a winning record.


WHAT TO WATCH FOR

South Carolina’s offense vs. Michigan’s defense is the key matchup in the game. While Michigan’s offense was lackluster throughout the season, it will be interesting to see if Kurt Roper being removed leads to any immediate changes on the South Carolina offense.

One of the reasons Will Muschamp gave for making the change after the regular season was the lack of pace in the offense as he was quoted in The State as, “I’d like to play with a little quicker tempo at times,” regarding the change. Aside from the pace of the offense, one has to wonder if the shackles will come off of sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley.

While Bentley attempted 25 or more passes in 11 games this season, he failed to top 300 passing yards in any games. The Gamecocks’ 7.0 yards per passing attempt is 11th in the SEC, ahead of only Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State.

Michigan comes into the game with the tenth ranked S&P+ defense and their pass defense ranks third. Throughout the season, the Wolverines have given up more than 200 passing yards only once (the blowout loss at Penn State) and held opponents at or below 50% completion percentage in nine of their 12 games.

So, would South Carolina be better off to dink and dunk the ball down the field in an attempt to have high percentage throws or to attack the Wolverine defense deep trying to stretch the field?

We’ll find out Monday with black eyed peas for a lunchtime kickoff on ESPN2.


Prediction

South Carolina 24, Michigan 21