South Carolina takes advantage of Michigan meltdown to win Outback Bowl, ends Big Ten's undefeated bowl season
South Carolina certainly provided a dramatic second half finish in the Outback Bowl.
The Gamecocks squared off against Michigan in the New Year’s Day matchup with a chance to get their ninth win of the season. For the first half and much of the third quarter, South Carolina looked doomed to fall short against its Big 10 opponent.
Neither offense was able to do much in the first half. The Gamecocks struggled with turnovers and miscues and looked sluggish while scoring a lone field goal in the first half. While the defense played well early on, the Wolverines were able to march deep enough into South Carolina territory to kick three field goals and head to halftime with a 9-3 lead.
That lead ballooned to a two-possession game as Michigan scored 10 unanswered points to begin the third quarter. The Gamecocks would also lose senior DB D.J. Smith to a targeting penalty in the third. It looked like Michigan would turn that drive into points, but the Gamecocks defense stepped up by forcing a turnover to snuff out the drive.
South Carolina was unable to score off of that turnover, but the Gamecocks would answer with a run of their own. It started with RB Rico Dowdle, a player that almost did not play in this game. He scored a 17-yard touchdown with 2:25 left in the third to give the Gamecocks much needed life in the game. A two-point conversion attempt failed, but the touchdown turned things around.
On the ensuing Michigan possession, the Wolverines would fumble again deep in their own territory. South Carolina took over and wasted little time in turning the possession into points. QB Jake Bentley, who came up big in the second half, put a pass up top for WR Bryan Edwards. Edwards was able to elevate over the defense and came down with the 21-yard touchdown to bring South Carolina within a field goal.
The turnaround would not stop there. The defense stepped up and forced a quick punt by Michigan to get the ball back. South Carolina would drive back down the field, and Bentley capped the drive with another long pass, this time a 53-yard bomb to Shi Smith. The touchdown gave the Gamecocks 20 unanswered points to take a 23-19 lead in the fourth quarter.
Though Michigan was definitely on its heels, the Wolverines offense responded with a steady drive back down the field. They battled 75 yards, all the way to a third-and-goal situation from South Carolina’s five-yard line. However, the Gamecocks defense came up big. JaMarcus King intercepted QB Brandon Peters in the end zone to preserve the lead.
South Carolina’s offense was able to flip the field on that possession but could not score. Michigan forced the punt and was in prime position to get the ball back. However, the punt was muffed terribly by the Wolverines and set the Gamecocks offense up inside the red zone. While they were unable to put the game away with a touchdown, South Carolina did kick a field goal with 3:47 left to make it a seven-point game.
The defense for South Carolina did its part by forcing a quick turnover on downs with 3:23 left to go. Michigan never had an answer once the Gamecocks offense found its footing and struggled through a sloppy second half on both sides of the ball.
Michigan’s defense did stiffen one final time and forced the Gamecocks out of field goal range late in the game. South Carolina kicker Parker White missed a field goal with 1:43 remaining to give the Wolverines one more shot to tie the game.
In the end, South Carolina forced one final turnover with just over a minute remaining to cap off the win. It was an impressive final outing for Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks to finish off 2017.
The stars for South Carolina in this game were definitely Bentley and the defense. Bentley completed 19 of 31 passes for 239 yards, 2 TDs, and an interceptions. His two touchdown throws were beautiful and showed fans what he can do when he is at the top of his game. The defense forced five Michigan turnovers and stopped the Wolverines on fourth down with 3:23 left in the game.
The Gamecocks will miss TE Hayden Hurst as he moves on to the NFL, but the Outback Bowl shows South Carolina fans that there is still a number of solid pieces to build on moving forward. The win also gives the program its first season with nine wins since 2013 when they won 11.