A year ago, with a month to prepare for the Birmingham Bowl, South Carolina unleashed a veritable offensive explosion against South Florida.
The Gamecocks gained 489 yards, the highest total of the Will Muschamp era, and scored 39 points, albeit in a 46-39 loss to the Bulls. For quarterback Jake Bentley, the game still marks his career highs in passing yards (390), attempts (43) and completions (32).
There’s a lingering question this bowl season about whether South Carolina can repeat that type of offensive magic with more than a month to prepare for the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Michigan, jump-starting an offense that underachieved for most of the season in the final outing.
The short answer is no. In fact, the game against the Wolverines provides almost exactly the opposite challenge than last year’s Birmingham Bowl. Against the Bulls, the South Carolina offense faced a vanilla defense and a potent offense. Against Michigan, the Gamecocks will see the reverse, a defense that ranks No. 3 in the country and runs one of the most unorthodox systems in the sport and an offense that, frankly, is blah.
“They are a tough, physical team, run the ball, try to run it down your throat, test your manhood,” South Carolina safety Steven Montac said.
The Wolverines’ offensive system is similar to Georgia’s, but Michigan doesn’t do it as well. The Wolverines are 101st in the nation in total offense. South Carolina held a Georgia offense that averaged 34.9 points this season to 24 points.
To put it simply, the defensive game plan is not going to tax Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson. Just like last year’s South Florida defense didn’t require much of a plan from the offensive staff.
This year, it’s the Gamecocks’ offensive coaching staff’s turn to carry the burden. Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown oversees a defense that is fifth in the country in tackles-for-loss with 103, and he does it by deploying elite defensive players in elaborate schemes.
“They’ve got probably some of the best talent we have seen all year up front,” South Carolina center Alan Knott said.
The Wolverines don’t blitz more than any other South Carolina opponent this season, just more effectively.
“They definitely do bring some pressures, some unorthodox stuff you don’t see every day,” guard Cory Helms said. “We just have to watch a lot of film and see how they play. They bring a lot of very weird stunts, but they are very gap sound. There are just a lot of things that most teams don’t have in their playbook. We are going to have to be sharp on picking stuff up.”
South Carolina’s offense ranks 98th in the nation in scoring (24.1 ppg) and 109th in yards (340.2 ypg). Those numbers might look pretty good if they can match them against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Who: South Carolina (8-4) vs. Michigan (8-4)
When: Noon Monday, Jan. 1
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Line: Michigan by 8