Outback Bowl Preview
Dec. 19, 2017

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Michigan (8-4, 5-4 B1G) is set for battle against South Carolina (8-4, 5-3 SEC) in the 2018 Outback Bowl, which will kick off at noon EST on New Year's Day from Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN2.

Michigan, led by head coach Jim Harbaugh, will participate in a bowl game for the 46th time in school history. U-M lists 11th in NCAA history in appearances and 17th in bowl game victories. Michigan will be making its 38th January bowl appearance and will play in a January bowl game for the 16th time in the past 19 bowl trips. The Wolverines have compiled a 3-2 mark all-time in the Outback Bowl/Hall of Fame Bowl, with appearances in the 1988, 1994, 1997, 2003 and 2013 games. U-M claimed victories against Alabama (1988), North Carolina State (1994) and Florida (2003) and suffered setbacks to Alabama (1997) and South Carolina (2013).

Will Muschamp’s South Carolina ballclub finished in sole possession of second place in the SEC Eastern Division, behind only conference champion Georgia. Two of Carolina’s four losses this season came to teams that are in the College Football Playoff semifinals. South Carolina will be making its fifth trip to the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks are 3-1 in previous appearances with back-to-back wins over Ohio State in 2001 (24-7) and 2002 (31-28), and a 31-10 loss to Iowa in 2009, before posting the 33-28 win over Michigan in 2013. The Outback Bowl will be the school’s 22nd bowl game in school history. Carolina is 8-13 in the previous 21 matchups. The Gamecocks have been bowl-eligible in 13 of the past 14 seasons, have won four of their last five bowl appearances, and dropped an overtime thriller to South Florida in last year’s Birmingham Bowl.

This will be the fourth meeting between Michigan and South Carolina, featuring a rematch of the 2013 Outback Bowl game won by South Carolina, 33-28, in the waning seconds. The Gamecocks hold a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series. Besides the bowl game matchup, the programs split regular-season games on each other's field, with South Carolina winning 17-14 at Michigan Stadium in 1980 and Michigan claiming a 34-3 win in Columbia during the 1985 season. The Wolverines, who are the 29th Big Ten representative to play in the Outback Bowl, are 25-8-1 all-time against members of the SEC.


 

 

QUICKIE
STATS

Scoring
Offense

Scoring Defense

Total Offense

Total Defense

Rushing Offense

Rushing Defense

Passing Offense

Passing Defense

Turnover Margin

MICHIGAN

25.8

18.3

354.9

268.6

186.3

125.9

168.6

142.7

-2

S. CAROLINA

24.1

20.8

340.2

374.6

127.3

146.7

212.9

227.9

+9

Michigan’s offense ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing (186.3), seventh in scoring (25.8), ninth in total yards (354.9), and 11th in passing (168.6). The Wolverines also rate third-best in the Big Ten in time of possession (31:45), and controlling the ball will be key against the Gamecocks. Junior running back Karan Higdon earned third-team All-Big Ten accolades after ranking seventh in the league with 929 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 77.4 yards per game. He became the first Michigan back to record multiple 200-yard rushing efforts since Mike Hart accomplished the feat three times during the 2004 season. U-M ran for one or more touchdowns on 11 of 12 opponents this fall and had multiple rushing touchdowns in six games, including five of the last seven contests. Under center, Michigan has dealt with injuries all season long. John O’Korn went 17-for-32 passing for 195 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the regular season finale against Ohio State, while Brandon Peters was 9-of-18 for 157 yards the week prior against Wisconsin. Peters, who has played in five games and completed 58 percent of his 64 passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions, is a frontrunner to get the starting nod in Tampa. Junior tight end Zach Gentry and sophomore tight end Sean McKeon have combined for 43 receptions totaling 561 yards and five touchdowns. Familiar faces Mason Cole, a senior tackle, and sophomore guard Ben Bredeson, will control the line up front as second-team All-Big Ten selections, along with honorable mention pick and fifth-year senior center Patrick Kugler. With a start in the bowl game, Cole will tie Craig Roh at 51 consecutive starts, the most for any player in U-M history, regardless of position.

South Carolina’s defense ranks sixth in the SEC in scoring (20.8) and against the rush (146.7), seventh in total yards allowed (374.6) and 11th in defending the pass (227.9). Senior linebacker Skai Moore, a second-team All-SEC standout, leads the Gamecocks and ranks 11th in the conference with 88 total tackles, including 59 solo stops. He is on pace to end his career as just the 15th player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to lead a team in tackles in four different seasons. A dominant player against both the run and the pass, Moore also tied Carolina’s career interception record with his 14th pick this season. Lineman Dante Sawyer enters the postseason tied for the FBS national lead with five forced fumbles, a number that is just one off the Carolina single-season record. The second-team All-Conference pick also ended the regular season with 29 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. Lineman D.J. Wonnum has accumulated 52 tackles and a team-leading 13 tackles for loss and six sacks.

On offense, the Gamecocks are sixth in the SEC in passing (212.9), and 12th in rushing (127.3) and total yards (340.2) and scoring (24.1). Quarterback Jake Bentley has directed the Gamecocks' offense, completing 226-of-362 passes for 2,555 yards and 16 touchdowns. His favorite receivers are Bryan Edwards (59 catches for 705 yards and 4 TDs) and Hayden Hurst (41 catches for 518 yards and 2 TDs). Hurst was recognized as a first-team All-SEC selection after leading all SEC tight ends with 41 receptions and 518 receiving yards. The junior enters the postseason as Carolina’s career leader among tight ends with 97 receptions for 1,240 yards. The ground game is paced by A.J. Turner (92 carries for 517 yards, 3 TDs) and Ty'Son Williams (92 carries for 460 yards, 1 TD). South Carolina’s offense has struggled to produce this year, or at least enough to Muschamp’s liking, so the team recently removed offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from his position. Wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon will serve in the play calling role for the Outback Bowl.

The Wolverines are first nationally in pass defense (142.7), and second in the Big Ten in total yards allowed (268.6), third in scoring (18.3), and sixth against the rush (125.9). In the national rankings, Michigan is also third in total defense, fifth with 8.5 tackles for loss per game, seventh with 3.25 sacks per game, 13th in scoring, second in first downs defense (166), and third in third-down conversion percentage defense (27.1). Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection, while fellow defensive linemen Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich secured both first- and second-team honors. Hurst finished the regular season with a career-best 59 stops, one of three Michigan defensive linemen with 50 or more stops. He registered single-season career highs of 5.0 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, bringing him to 33.5 career tackles for loss, which is 17th-best at Michigan. Winovich's 17.0 TFL leads Michigan and the Big Ten and ranks tied for 11th in a single season in program history, while his 8.0 sacks are tied for tops in the league. Gary also registered a career high in both categories, with 11.0 TFL and 5.0 sacks. Linebacker Devin Bush leads the Wolverines in tackles (94), with 35 solo stops. He added a career-best 5.0 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, with nine pass breakups and one interception in the regular season. U-M's defensive captain, Mike McCray, sits at 75 tackles on the season, one shy of his career-high mark from 2016. His 13.0 TFL, which rank seventh in the Big Ten, and 5.0 sacks, are also career bests. Lavert Hill (5.0), safety Tyree Kinnel (4.5), David Long (2.0) and safety Josh Metellus (1.5) combined for 13.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while intercepting six passes and returning one for a touchdown, with 29 pass breakups in all.

On special teams, Michigan leads the country in kick return defense (15.45). The Wolverines are fifth in the Big Ten in punt returns (8.29), 11th in the Big Ten in kickoff returns (18.72), 12th in punt return defense (10.26) and 13th in punting (35.86). True freshman Quinn Nordin made 15-of-20 field goals and 34-of-37 PATs, while newcomer Brad Robbins averaged 40.9 yards per punt, pinning 18 of his 58 attempts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Donovan Peoples-Jones is third in the Big Ten in punt returns (8.5), with one of his take backs going for a touchdown. Ambry Thomas is seventh in the Big Ten in kickoff returns (20.1). South Carolina is fourth in the SEC in kickoff returns (23.03), fifth in punting (41.11), and seventh and eighth in defending punt returns (6.45) and kickoff returns (20.89), respectively. Freshman kicker Parker White has made just 12 of his 22 field goal attempts, leaving his 54.5 conversion percentage 104th out of 106 kickers. Punter Joseph Carlton boasts an average of 44.3 yards per punt, which is 14th-best in the country.