Trailing 19-3 well into the third quarter and with their Bloomin’ Onion hopes on life support, the South Carolina Gamecocks came storming back to stun the Michigan Wolverines and ring in 2018 with a 26-19 Outback Bowl victory on Monday.
The game got off to a slow and frankly boring start, as both teams’ defenses dug in and neither offense could find production. Michigan finally opened the scoring with a 35-yard field goal when South Carolina’s Chris Lammons muffed a punt deep in Gamecock territory. The Wolverines tacked on another field goal, this one from 26 yards out, after a bad exchange between South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley and running back A.J. Turner resulted in a lost fumble. After exchanging more punts, the Gamecocks finally got on the board with a 45-yard Parker White field goal of their own, but Michigan kicked another as the half expired to take a 9-3 lead to the locker room. It was ugly, unwatchable football, but South Carolina was fortunate to be down just six points after two early turnovers.
But after an empty possession to start the second half, the Gamecocks looked like they were in serious trouble with Michigan marching down the field. The Wolverines’ offense was the most effective it had been all game, and the 3-minute, 34-second drive culminated with a 1-yard Ben Mason TD. To make matters even worse, the Wolverines intercepted Bentley on the Gamecocks’ next possession, and although South Carolina’s defense forced its first turnover with a Javon Kinlaw fumble recovery to end the threat, the offense stalled again. Michigan tacked on another field goal, and a 19-3 deficit was starting to feel like 190-3.
And then the Gamecocks came alive. Running back Rico Dowdle, who was supposedly not yet ready to return after his fibula injury, started giving South Carolina its first meaningful rushing attempts of the day. He scored from 17 yards out to cap a six-play, 77-yard drive, and after a failed 2-point conversion, the Gamecocks were inching closer with the score 19-9. Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters fumbled deep in his own territory on the Wolverines’ next possession, and in a vintage Steve Spurrier move, the Gamecocks took another shot at the end zone — and receiver Bryan Edwards rewarded them with a sensational 21-yard touchdown catch. Now trailing just 19-16 near the end of the third quarter, South Carolina had almost completely flipped the script.
After forcing a Michigan punt to open the final quarter, South Carolina took a 23-19 lead on a beautiful 53-yard catch and run from Bentley to Shi Smith. The six-play, 81-yard drive was also highlighted by an NFL caliber 23-yard catch by tight end Hayden Hurst on a critical third and long.
The Wolverines went back to work, stringing together positive plays and working their way down the field. On second and goal from the 5-yard line, Michigan looked poised to retake the advantage, but South Carolina’s Jamarcus King intercepted Peters in the end zone. The Gamecocks padded their lead with a 22-yard field goal, then forced Michigan to turn it over on downs. South Carolina missed an opportunity to put the game comfortably out of reach when White couldn’t connect on a 48-yard field goal, but the Wolverines complied with Peters’ second interception, this one to Steven Montac.
The Gamecocks picked up their ninth win of the season and continued their bowl game mastery over Big Ten opponents. With the victory, South Carolina also denied the Big Ten a clean sweep of its bowl games. This was an incredible effort and one heck of a way to enter the offseason.