If defense is your thing, the Outback Bowl is for you. The Michigan Wolverines, losers to Ohio State yet again, have to try and regroup to play the South Carolina Gamecocks, in a rematch of the 2012 Outback Bowl. This time around, though, it is Michigan that is a clear favorite and a favorite of more than a touchdown. South Carolina was a five-point favorite when these teams last met, but that was a Gamecocks team with 10 wins and a Michigan program led by Brady Hoke. Of course, the Gamecocks were led by Steve Spurrier. Times have certainly changed.
The Gamecocks finished 8-4 on the season and, like Michigan, their season ended with a whimper against an arch-nemesis. At least Michigan was somewhat competitive with Ohio State because South Carolina was nowhere near competitive with Clemson in the 34-10 rout. South Carolina was 8-4 to the under with the former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp at the helm for the second straight season. The Wolverines were 8-4 straight up and 6-6 against the spread. The Wolverines were 7-5 to the over, despite an average of just 43.9 points per game in their 12 games.
The Gamecocks are a pretty tough handicap in this game. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who was considered a finalist for the job at Rice, was fired shortly after the season. It makes sense. Roper has a quarterback in Jake Bentley, whom this author has compared to Connor Shaw with a little more arm talent. Bentley had a decent freshman season with a 65.8 percent completion rate and a 9/4 TD/INT ratio. This season, Bentley regressed, with a 62.4 percent completion rate and a 16/11 TD/INT ratio. The Gamecocks only ran for four yards per carry and didn’t have a run longer than 35 yards. Roper’s firing was certainly deserved, as the Gamecocks managed just 5.2 yards per play last season and 5.5 yards per play this season as one of the slowest teams in the country from a tempo standpoint. Wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon will call the plays for the bowl game, with the search ongoing for a new OC. Sophomores AJ Turner and Ty’Son Williams emerged with over five yards per carry each, so there are some building blocks, especially if injured wideout Deebo Samuel does decide to come back to school.
Statistically, the South Carolina defense wasn’t dominant by any means, but the influence of Will Muschamp is evident with this group. They fly to the football. South Carolina had 23 takeaways and held the opposition to 5.3 yards per play. The Gamecocks had a soft schedule without Georgia and Auburn from the SEC West. It helped not to play those teams, but South Carolina did play well against Georgia and turnovers turned the Clemson game into a rout. Opponents only rushed for 3.9 yards per carry and the Gamecocks limited big plays against in the passing game. Defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson could be without his leader on defense in Bryson Allen-Williams, but this Michigan offense really isn’t very good.
At all. The Michigan offense managed just 5.3 yards per play. In hopes of turning things around for next season, head coach Jim Harbaugh finally got a quarterback with some upside in Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, who is coming in off of a torn ACL. For the bowl game, it will be Brandon Peters, who missed the loss to Ohio State with a concussion. John O’Korn had no chance against the Buckeyes. Peters posted the best completion percentage at 57.8 and the best TD/INT ratio at 4/0. The bar wasn’t very high in either department. Michigan did rush for 4.5 yards per carry, with solid seasons from Karan Higdon, with 6.3 yards per carry, and Chris Evans, with 5.2 yards per carry, so that will be the focal point of this offense against the Gamecocks. Short-yardage back Khalid Hill will get touches around the goal line. Michigan had 12.3 yards per catch, but nobody had more than 30 catches during the season. It has to be killing an ex-NFL quarterback to have an offense like this. Michigan scored over 40 points per game last season and had 5.9 yards per play. Things did not go nearly that well this season.
But, the Michigan defense was one of the best in the country. The Wolverines held the opposition to just 4.5 yards per play and less than 270 yards per game on the season. The secondary was particularly good, as opposing quarterbacks only completed 47.6 percent of their passes for an average of 143 yards per game. Michigan allowed 3.6 yards per carry and just 18.2 points per game. All of the numbers for defensive coordinator Don Brown have been tremendous during his stint in Ann Arbor and that defense will be called upon again with an offense that just can’t seem to get things going in a positive direction.
College Football Free Pick: South Carolina Gamecocks +7.5
There is a pretty big correlation between the total and the line move on this game. Most numbers guys probably do have this spread around a touchdown, give or take, but the low total in the mid-40s makes taking the points an enticing proposition. It is a little bit harder for Michigan to plan for South Carolina not knowing what interim OC Bryan McClendon will do to spark what has been a mostly dormant group. In what should be a low-scoring game, the points are the way to look.