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On the big stage, South Carolina’s defense delivers on every front

Will Muschamp on Outback Bowl win: We’ve got grit

Will Muschamp on Outback Bowl win against Michigan: “We’ve got grit. We’ve got toughness.”
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Will Muschamp on Outback Bowl win against Michigan: “We’ve got grit. We’ve got toughness.”

South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw isn’t a man content with just enough of something.

This is a player who came into school massive and cut 40-plus pounds off his frame. He’s a 300-pounder who thinks he could play end, and was so big he wasn’t let on one of the theme park rides in an event the week before Monday’s Outback Bowl.

When he caught a dropped handoff on a fullback dive and came away with a turnover vital to South Carolina’s 26-19 comeback win against Michigan, he wanted more.

“I saw the tight end, he looked me in my eyes,” Kinlaw said. “I think he might have got a little scared. Right to me. I was going to make the play regardless. I think if I would’ve hit him, he probably would’ve still fumbled. If I would have known that was going to happen. I was going to the crib with that. I was going him with that.”

His offense handled the scoring, but it was the defense that seemed to be in pursuit of excess.

The Gamecocks allowed a paltry 3.6 yards a play, Michigan’s worst of the season with a slate of hellacious defenses. On 17 third downs, the Gamecocks only allowed two conversions. They were hungry for turnovers, grabbing five.

Nine times the Wolverines had the ball and didn’t gain a first down. Six Michigan possessions got inside USC’s red zone, only one crossed the goal line.

The Wolverines were built on power running. Their backs averaged 3.3 yards a carry with nothing longer than 16.

And this was a group that could have broken at one point. Early in the third quarter, Michigan finally scored a touchdown, going up 16-3, and later extended the lead to 19-9. To that point, USC’s offense had only two drives that went longer than 10 yards.

But USC’s defense had faith in its offensive brethren.

“We’ve been talking about it since we’ve been preparing for the bowl game,” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “Come out fast and set the tone.”

Brunson played his part, knifing in on several stunts to sack Michigan’s Brandon Peters and end drives. Other nice days included Jamarcus King picking off a pass in the end zone and Skai Moore coming just short of his 15th career interception.

The performance capped what had been a solid step forward for USC’s defense. The performance Monday should put the Gamecocks in the top 40 of yards per play allowed. They forced 28 turnovers, which should finish top 10 nationally and lead the SEC.

“We’ve come a long way,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “We couldn’t stop the run against anybody last year if you watched us. It’s good to see that you play blocks, you tackle, you leverage the ball.

“We’re getting stronger as a program. We’ve got to continue to do that.”

The State's top photographs from South Carolina's Outback Bowl win over Michigan at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

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