South Carolina survived a slow start to 2018 and rallied Monday to beat Michigan 26-19 in the Outback Bowl in Raymond James Stadium.
The Gamecocks improved to 9-4, topping eight wins in a season for the seventh time in school history, but it wasn’t easy. Under the direction of interim offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon, South Carolina was held to three points and 81 yards for the first 42 minutes of the game but exploded for 21 points in the span of five minutes, 52 seconds of game time.
“Huge win for our football program,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “We don’t have all the trophies and the tradition and the history (of Michigan), but we’ve got some grit. We’ve got some toughness and resolve. All the arrows are pointing up for us. The things we are doing to be successful, we are going to have those trophies soon.”
Michigan led 9-3 at halftime and extended that lead to 19-3 in the third quarter, but the Wolverines’ final eight possessions totaled only 131 yards and resulted in six turnovers.
“They got better as the game went on no doubt and made plays to win the football game, and we didn’t,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We didn’t get the knockout punch when we needed it.”
South Carolina is now 3-1 all-time against Michigan, college football’s winningest program, and 4-1 all-time in the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines fell to 8-5 on the season and did not beat a team this year that finished the season with a winning record.
The Gamecocks notched the second win of bowl season for the SEC, which was 2-5 in bowl games before the CFB Playoffs began. Until South Carolina’s comeback, the conference had been 0-5 in postseason play this season.
The Gamecocks took their first lead of the game on a 53-yard pass from Jake Bentley to Shi Smith with 11:33 left in the game that put South Carolina ahead 23-19. Michigan marched down the field on its next possession, but Gamecocks senior cornerback Jamarcus King intercepted a Brandon Peters pass in the end zone on third-and-goal with 7:53 left in the game. A 22-yard Parker White field goal extended the lead to 26-19 with 3:47 left in the game. White missed a 48-yard attempt with 1:43 left that allowed the Wolverines one final shot to rally, but a Steven Montac interception ended that threat.
“Not one guy on our offense got discouraged,” said Bentley, who was named the game’s MVP. “Everyone had full confidence that we were going to come back and win.”
South Carolina finished with 300 yards, most of it (239) through the air. Sophomore wide receiver Bryan Edwards had five catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Michigan finished with 277 yards, 203 through the air and 74 on the ground.
Star of the game: South Carolina’s defense played well most of the game, and sophomore linebacker T.J. Brunson led the way with 13 tackles. Senior linebacker Skai Moore had five tackles, enough to maintain his season lead on Brunson and become the 15th player in FBS history to lead his team in tackles for four seasons.
Play of the game: Bentley – who finished 19 of 32 for 239 yards, two touchdowns and an interception – threw his best pass of the day to Smith for the 53-yard, fourth quarter touchdown that put the Gamecocks ahead for the first time and for good.
Stat of the game: South Carolina is now 10-3 in one-score games in Muschamp’s two seasons. “Our players understand how to win close ballgames,” Muschamp said.
Special teams breakdown: South Carolina’s special teams performance was miserable in the first half. The Gamecocks had a turnover on a muffed punt by Chris Lammons, a botched kickoff return that resulted in starting a drive on the 16-yard line, a timeout forced by having only 10 men on the field for a field-goal attempt, two kickoffs out of bounds, a delay of game on a punt and a 16-yard punt.
Secondary shakeup: Muschamp said several times that bowl practices were a good opportunity for young or lesser-used players to move up in the playing rotation, and South Carolina fans saw the first proof of that Monday in the defensive backfield as junior Keisean Nixon played more than he has all season. Nixon, who joined the Gamecocks this season as a junior college transfer, was in on the second possession of the game and played regularly. He narrowly missed a diving interception in the second quarter and finished with four tackles.
Banged up, up front: Both teams started the game without two starting offensive linemen. South Carolina right tackle Zack Bailey and left guard Donell Stanley, who missed practice time this week because of injury, dressed out but were not in the opening lineup. Bailey, who had his ankle heavily taped, entered the game on the third series and played the rest of the way. Stanley did not play. Blake Camper started in place of Bailey, and Sadarius Hutcherson started in place of Stanley. Michigan was without starting right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, and starting left guard Ben Bredeson did not dress out because of injury.
Who: Coastal Carolina
When: Sept. 1
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium