Bloomin’ Onions and the Gamecocks

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The Outback Bowl’s home page displays action photos of Connor Shaw and Denard Robinson sandwiched between shots of South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Michigan coach Brady Hoke.

But will we ever actually see Shaw vs. Robinson, a battle of run-first quarterbacks in the bowl down under?

Here’s a little more authentic lead-in: Dylan Thompson vs. Devin Gardner with some Jadeveon Clowney on the side. Nursing a bruised foot, Shaw’s still not 100-percent and Robinson isn’t expected to be healthy enough to play under center in time for Tampa. Both starting standouts are expected to play, but their reserves could have a bigger impact.

Robinson has lined up in a variety of spots on offense over the second half of the season after a elbow injury resulted in nerve damage. Gripping the ball to throw is troublesome, so Robinson has used his talent elsewhere while junior signal caller Devin Gardner’s taken control of the offense. Gardner’s 3-1 over four starts with 1,005 yards passing, eight touchdowns and four picks.

A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Gardner has never seriously threatened his counterpart’s job his first two seasons in Ann Arbor. With a better feel for the game in Year 3, Gardner provides Michigan with the luxury of using both playmakers in the backfield as dual weapons and it’s worked out well. Robinson, considered one of college football’s most electrifying individuals, was a preseason Heisman candidate before seeing those dreams evaporate with eight interceptions over his team’s first four games — a stretch that included losses to Alabama and Notre Dame.

If he can rush for 90 yards against the Gamecocks, Robinson will surpass West Virginia’s Pat White in the all-time FBS record books for career rushing yards as a quarterback. He’s rushed for 100 or more yards five times this season (235 on Purdue; 122 at Ohio State) and was a few yards from eclipsing the century mark against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Iowa. Robinson’s averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Texas A&M’s Johnny Football is at 6.4 yards per rush by comparison.

On the Gamecocks’ side, Thompson has spelled Shaw on several occasions this season and done well in each with the exception of South Carolina’s game at Florida (for the record, no one performed well in that one). Thompson has a pair of 300-yard games, eight touchdown passes and poses more of a downfield threat from the pocket. He’s not as polished as Shaw with his legs, but Thompson is the more typical Spurrier passer. The good news with Thompson is that he can still run the zone read offense without hiccup. He scampered for 20 yards on 3rd-and-19 in a key situation on a designed draw at Clemson to preserve South Carolina’s fourth straight win in the series.

South Carolina is seeking its second consecutive 11-win season and just extended Spurrier’s contract through 2017. The team’s 27-17 win at Clemson last month gave the Head Ball Coach the program’s all-time wins mark and continued the Golden Era of Gamecock football.

Photo Credit: Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE

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