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Outback Bowl: Everything a Michigan fan needs to know about South Carolina

The weirdest, but best, photo of all-time.

Michigan has its bowl opponent. The Wolverines (8-4, 5-4) will take on South Carolina (8-4, 5-3 SEC) in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 at noon on ESPN2. Here’s everything you need to know about the Gamecocks.

Two seasons ago, after 10 years of losing two-to-six games at the helm of South Carolina, Steve Spurrier got fed up after a 2-4 start and hilariously peaced out mid-season. That team lost nine games under an interim and the Gamecocks named another former Florida head coach, Will Muschamp, to take over.

Muschamp guided South Carolina to seven losses last year, and now here they are, in that Spurrier-Gamecock sweet spot of four losses. Such is life as a second-tier SEC squad.

This year’s team lost by several scores to Georgia and Clemson (understandable) but also fell victim to Kentucky (7-5) and Texas A&M (7-5) (less understandable).

They do have some victories over winning teams: NC State (8-4), Missouri (7-5) and, for what it’s worth, FCS Wofford (10-2).

S&P+ rates them as the 66th-best team in the country overall.

Offense

Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley heads S&P+’s 88th-best offense that only has two senior starters. He’s a slightly better than average QB: 62.4 completion-percentage, 7.1 yards per attempt, 16 TDs and 11 INTs. He’s 61st nationally, according to PFF.

He’s also a bit of a gunslinger.

The Gamecocks throw a lot, leading to Bentley having the most drop-backs of any SEC QB. He then throws deep a lot, which was a great thing last year but not so much this year, as he threw four interceptions on deep balls this season, second-most in the SEC. According to PFF, Bentley threw the third-most turnover-worthy passes in the SEC this year: 13. He had several inaccurate throws in South Carolina’s last game against Clemson.

Bentley has been finding pay-dirt on the ground recently, with six rushing touchdowns over his last five games, and his rushing yardage season-high was 47 against Vanderbilt, so he can move a little bit.

The offensive line has problems protecting him, though. Donell Stanley is one of the best guards in the SEC, but there’s not much around him, and Michigan fans should be very familiar with the fact that good offensive line play requires all five o-linemen to play well. South Carolina is 94th in passing down sack rate and are allowing 2.17 sacks per game.

The Gamecocks have four pass-catchers with more than 300 passing yards, junior tight end Hayden Hurst being the best among them, but remember, this is a team that passes a lot.

The run game is below average, ranked 67th by S&P+. A.J. Turner averages 5.6 yards per carry and Ty’Son Williams at 5.0. They get in trouble on the ground and Bentley can’t always get them out of it on third down.

Defense

South Carolina has fared a little better on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 46th to S&P+. It’s an experienced unit, with seven senior starters.

Linebacker Skai Moore and d-lineman Dante Sawyer lead a front-seven that has the Gamecocks ranked 24th in rush defense. Physical safety Chris Lammons moves to nickel-back on running downs and is third on the team in tackles.

The secondary is small and not particularly talented. They’re S&P+’s 57th ranked pass D. They play a lot of man coverage, but it’s not man-press, to mitigate giving up a big passing play.

South Carolina, Etc.

Hurst is South Carolina’s best offensive player and has been getting first-round NFL buzz. There’s an increasing possibility these days that a first or second round-type might want to skip a non-playoff bowl game. Just something to keep an eye on.

ALSOGamecock and Southern Cal fans regularly fight about which team is the actual “USC.” The argument has even stretched to the courts over licensing interlocked SC logos (Southern Cal won). If you ask me, when I hear “USC,” I think of the Trojans, but that’s probably a football-centric viewpoint.

ALSO… Michigan fans might regret gloating about going to the Outback Bowl instead of the Holiday Bowl against Washington State when ESPN decides to show the Clowney hit on Vincent Smith from 2013 about 6,000 times before and during the game.

Jadaevon Clowney hits Vincent SMith

That hit was one of those “Do you remember where you were when” events. I was in Chicago, hung over, eating a soft pretzel. It took 20 minutes to convince my now-wife that Smith hadn’t in fact been decapitated.

No, probably not. Michigan’s hoping it fares a little better this time around.

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Eric Coughlin
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