South Carolina pulled off the 26-19 win in the Outback Bowl against Michigan, which means it’s time to grade the Gamecocks:
No, the stats were not remarkable, mostly tamped down by the first half. But after the break, Jake Bentley was 11-for-19 for 166 yards and two of the prettier throws you'll see on touchdowns to Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith. He closed the game going 9-for-11 for 154.
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It was unlikely the production was ever going to be that great against a Michigan defense that loves to play man-to-man and load the box. Rico Dowdle's return was needed, and he came in with 45 yards on six carries and three catches for 32 yards to buoy USC on the ground.
USC's players were asked to beat good man coverage and for the most part they did. Bryan Edwards was a terror. Shi Smith flashed the height of his potential on the 53-yard score. Even less-used Randrecous Davis got involved with four catches.
After the game, USC tight end Hayden Hurst lamented the fact he didn't leave on the most productive day. But two of his three catches proved vital. In the third quarter, his 12-yard catch dug USC out of a first-and-15 hole, and a late hit set up the Gamecocks' first score. The next drive, he had a highlight-reel 23-yard catch to convert third and 17, right before the bomb to Smith.
It wasn't a perfect day, with less than great running stats and more than a few free rushers messing with Jake Bentley. But that's what Michigan can do to folks, and the Wolverines can do it a lot worse, especially against a line with a replacement guard (Sadarius Hutcherson for Donell Stanley). Things shored up after the first half and it was a better-then-expected day given the reputation of the group and the competition.
Going into the game, South Carolina needed to not get leaned on and hold up against a downhill attack. They held Michigan's backs to 3.3 yards a carry. They also harried Michigan's Brandon Peters numerous times and batted away three of his passes at the line.
T.J. Brunson was a tone-setting terror in the early going, posting a pair of first-half sacks and 13 tackles. Skai Moore played well in his final game, nearly getting his 15th career interception when he undercut a route in the late going.
Michigan quarterbacks dropped back 45 times on the day. Only 20 were completed, of those, only two were longer than 15 yards (a 17-yard gain and a wheel route Jamarcus King got lost on). Chris Lammons broke up three passes, King redeemed himself with a vital pick in the end zone, Keisean Nixon saw his first real action and the group weathered the loss of D.J. Smith late.
There were some miscues. USC had a punt muffed, a player commit fair catch interference and a mishandled kickoff that pinned the offense at the 6. That said, Parker White hit a 44-yard field goal the team needed (he missed a 48-yarder that could have helped), while punter Joseph Charlton had a more up than down day.
A harsh grader might deduct points for falling behind 19-3 and looking hapless on offense for 40 or so minutes. But in that situation, a team is supposed to fold. Frankly, if it had ended up a game where Michigan smothered USC and the Gamecocks defense showed well but broke under a constant pounding, it would've met expectations for a lot of folks. Instead the Gamecocks were losing the way many predicted and won in a way few thought they could. For that, top marks.