After what a feels like an interminable layoff following the conclusion of the regular season, the 2017 South Carolina Gamecocks will take the field one last time against the Michigan Wolverines in the Outback Bowl. The last time these teams met in Tampa, it was an instant classic with “The Hit” heard ‘round the world. Though it wasn’t even five years ago, both programs have new coaches and are in very different places now. Let’s take a look at what the Gamecocks need to accomplish to keep their success against the Big Ten alive.
Bring the A-game offensively. As USC is going up against the third-ranked defense in the country, which is only yielding 268.6 yards per game, the Gamecocks simply can’t afford to turn in a lackluster effort when they have the ball. Quarterback Jake Bentley needs to be settled in and on target, and it’d help if the rushing attack could find some daylight as well. This is a tough ask against an elite unit, especially with interim offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon auditioning for a job, but who knows — maybe a fresh approach and a Kurt Roper-free sideline will rejuvenate the offense. South Carolina has no reason to play conservatively, so we could finally see some creativity that might catch Michigan off guard.
Stop the run. Much like the Gamecocks, the Wolverines will bring an uneven, inconsistent offense to the table. Freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, recovered from a concussion he suffered earlier in the year, will likely start. He’s Michigan’s best option in light of underwhelming play from John O’Korn, and the Wolverines will likely call on their running game to help him out. Michigan finished third in the Big Ten with 186.3 yards per game and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry with 25 rushing touchdowns. The Gamecocks need to force Peters to beat them.
With two defensive-oriented teams going at it, I expect this to be a low-scoring slugfest — something along the lines of 20-13 or 24-20. I’m worried about a few things — particularly USC’s injuries along the offensive line, as well as A.J. Turner’s potentially reduced role at running back — but I’ll go ahead and take the Gamecocks in this one. I’m thinking good thoughts as the calendar turns to 2018.