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Report card: Gritty Gamecocks find a way to win

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South Carolina’s second-half comeback was a lot of fun, but its performance was still rough around the edges.

Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Passing game: This was a tale of two halves. Quarterback Jake Bentley and the rest of the offense got off to an atrocious start, punting five times and turning the ball over twice (once via interception, once via fumble after a bad exchange). It was too much to expect that interim offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon could revamp the Gamecocks’ approach in just a month after Kurt Roper’s dismissal, but it was still disappointing to see that not much had changed. South Carolina’s fortunes shifted in the second half, at least, and we saw a little more creativity as well as aggressiveness. (Taking a shot at the end zone right after a Michigan fumble was vintage Steve Spurrier.) Bentley’s pass to Shi Smith for a 53-yard touchdown was one of the prettiest balls he’s thrown all season. Ultimately, Bentley posted a 19-of-32 performance for 239 yards and a touchdown. Bryan Edwards, who led the Gamecocks with five catches for 88 yards, made a phenomenal catch for a score, and Hayden Hurst came up with some critical grabs as well. South Carolina did enough to win the game here, but just barely. GRADE: C+

Passing defense: Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters returned to the Wolverines after suffering a concussion earlier in the season, and was intent on proving himself worthy of the starting job. Unfortunately for Peters, he did not have a productive day: He went just 20-of-44 passing for 186 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns, and the Wolverines’ most explosive passing play was just a 27-yard reception. Much like South Carolina, Michigan struggled with an inconsistent at best and ugly at worst effort on offense for most of the season. The Gamecocks did a good job making sure that trend continued. Jamarcus King, often maligned by fans, gets a special shout out here for his critical end zone interception. GRADE: A

Rushing offense: Rico Dowdle, who had been recovering from a fractured fibula, somehow went from being ruled out of the game to leading South Carolina with six carries for 45 yards and a touchdown, and he added three catches for 32 yards. With only 61 total rushing yards and an inability to convert in several third-and-short situations, the Gamecocks weren’t exactly impressive on the ground. Nonetheless, Dowdle helped them make some much-needed plays against a stout Michigan defensive line. We also saw a few neat wrinkles with the speed-option. GRADE: B

Rushing defense: The Wolverines had a similar lack of success in the running game, notching 74 rushing yards with a 2.2 yards per carry average. Coming into the Outback Bowl, Michigan was averaging 186.3 yards per game, good for third in the Big Ten, and 4.5 yards per carry. Karan Higdon was on the verge of becoming a 1,000-yard rusher for the Wolverines as well, but Michigan was unable to rely on its backfield to help Peters. GRADE: A

Special teams: As was often the case in 2017, this phase of the game was a mixed bag. A.J. Turner came up big with a fumble recovery off a muffed Michigan punt, but the Gamecocks fumbled away a punt of their own. Parker White hit a 45-yard field goal, but missed a 48-yarder that could’ve given South Carolina more breathing room late in the game. It just kind of is what it is at this point, and hopefully Will Muschamp will get special teams some help when hiring that tenth assistant coach. GRADE: C

Coaching: I don’t know what we can take away from McClendon’s audition for offensive coordinator. As mentioned above, there was no way he could overhaul the offense in just a month, nor would that have even been ideal after an entire season under a different system. He was also tasked with facing the third-ranked defense, and the players didn’t help with sloppy execution at times. But it’s hard to not be discouraged by how many of the same issues under Roper continued to surface. I would prefer an external hire to make a clean break from that system, but we’ll just have to see what happens when other candidates start to surface. GRADE: C+

Uniforms: While I’m partial to the black helmets and black jerseys, I wasn’t really a fan of pairing them with white pants. I think topping the black-on-white look with the garnet helmet would’ve really set it off, especially since the Gamecocks never got around to wearing that combination this season. GRADE: C

Free Bloomin’ Onions: A+++++++++