Here’s a look at three keys for South Carolina in Tuesday’s matchup with Michigan in the Outback Bowl:
1. Consistent quarterback play: It sounds like South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier will give both of his quarterbacks a chance to play. Connor Shaw will start and is as healthy as he’s been after playing through injuries to his shoulder and foot this season. Shaw missed the finale against Clemson with a foot injury, and Dylan Thompson stepped in and passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns in the 27-17 win over the Tigers. Spurrier said he isn’t sure how this game will play out, and it might be that the Gamecocks go with the hot hand. However it shakes out, they need to take care of the ball and make plays when they’re there. Thompson is more of a pocket passer, while Shaw is a guy who can move around and extend the play.
2. Contain Michigan’s quarterbacks: Devin Gardner has played the bulk of the snaps at quarterback in Michigan’s past four games, and he’s given the Wolverines more pop in the passing game and more big plays down the field. Pressuring Gardner and not allowing him to get into any kind of rhythm will be critical for the Gamecocks, who are tied for fifth nationally with 40 sacks in 12 games. It’s not just Gardner the Gamecocks will have to deal with. Senior Denard Robinson is still one of the most dynamic rushing threats in the country among quarterbacks. He’s averaging nearly 117 rushing yards per game, and the Gamecocks would like to limit his opportunities.
3. Establishing the run: South Carolina played the final three games without star tailback Marcus Lattimore, who suffered torn ligaments in his knee for the second straight season. The Gamecocks are averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, which is last in the SEC. They need to get the running game going against Michigan so they’re not faced with a lot of third-and-long situations. Senior Kenny Miles and freshman Mike Davis will share the tailback duties in this game, and Shaw will also factor into South Carolina’s running game. The Gamecocks don’t need to run for 200 yards to win this game, but they need to be able to run it enough to keep Michigan honest on defense.