South Carolina-Michigan Preview

Both Brady Hoke and Steve Spurrier are trying to take that last

step that will vault their respective programs into the nation’s

elite. The two coaches look for clues how to achieve that for next

season on Tuesday when Michigan plays South Carolina in the Outback

Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

No. 19 Michigan (8-4) finished second to Nebraska in the Legends

Division of the Big Ten, and three of its losses came to the top

three teams in the country – No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Alabama and

No. 3 Ohio State – as well as the Cornhuskers. The Wolverines were

unable to prevent their archrivals from completing an unbeaten

season, losing 26-21 to the Buckeyes on Nov. 24 after failing to

score in the second half.

Despite failing to come away with a victory in any of those

marquee games, Hoke thinks his team will apply lessons learned from

those defeats in this contest.

“I think it’s always a benefit when you play good football teams

whether you win or lose,” he said. “You learn how you have to

play. We have to do a better job of taking care of the football,

have to run the ball better.”

Running the ball has not been a problem for Hoke in his two

seasons at Michigan with Denard Robinson as the team’s offensive

focal point. Despite missing two games due to an injury to his

throwing elbow, the senior has 1,166 rushing yards and seven

touchdowns to go with 1,319 passing yards and nine scoring

tosses.

The injury, however, completely eliminated his throwing, forcing

him to line up as running back in the last two games. Robinson, who

pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended license Dec. 18 but

remains eligible to play, ran for 220 yards in those contests.

He is hoping the time off will allow him to resume being a dual

threat.

“I feel pretty good, to be honest with you,” Robinson said when

the game was announced earlier this month. “When we start

practicing, I can have more say. I’m not throwing how I want to

throw, but I’ll get there.”

This will be the final game for “Shoelace,” who was the first

player in FBS history to rush and pass for 1,500 yards in 2010.

Robinson has 4,395 rushing yards, 78 shy of passing Anthony Thomas

for second on the school’s all-time list. His 42 rushing TDs are

third in Michigan’s annals.

If Robinson can’t play quarterback, Devin Gardner will likely

make his fifth straight start there. He has thrown for 1,005 yards

with eight touchdowns and four interceptions to go with seven

rushing scores since taking over for Robinson.

Regardless of who is under center, both players will have to

account for South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, who was named a

first-team All-American and SEC defensive player of the year after

setting single-season school records for sacks with 13 and tackles

for loss with 21 1/2. The sophomore also won the Hendricks Award,

given to the nation’s top defensive end.

Michigan’s offensive line, however, could be up to the challenge

as it has allowed a Big Ten-low 15 sacks.

Even with Clowney, the 11th-ranked Gamecocks (10-2) were

relegated to a third-place finish in the East Division of the

annually powerful SEC, losing on the road in consecutive weeks to

then-No. 9 LSU and then-No. 3 Florida in October. South Carolina

regrouped to win its final four games, including a 27-17 victory at

previously 12th-ranked Clemson on Nov. 24 behind 4 1/2 sacks from

Clowney, giving the program consecutive seasons with double-digit

victories for the first time in school history.

The school extended Spurrier’s contract two years through 2017

on Monday, and the veteran coach still relishes the fight to bring

that elusive conference title to Columbia.

“We have achieved a lot of goals, but we have not yet won the

SEC championship,” said Spurrier, who is the school’s all-time

leader with 65 wins. “Hopefully, we can do that within the next

couple of years.”

Spurrier has a pair of capable quarterbacks after Dylan Thompson

had a strong game at Clemson in place of the injured Connor Shaw,

throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Shaw, who has thrown

for 1,732 yards and 15 TDs, is expected to be fully recovered from

his foot injury by the time of this game, but Spurrier has not said

which quarterback would start versus the Wolverines.

“We’ll just get both of them ready to play,” he said. “See how

it goes.”

Whoever Spurrier elects to start could have an advantage because

Michigan will be without starting cornerback J.T. Floyd.

Floyd is one of three Wolverines suspended, along with punter

Will Hagerup and backup linebacker Brandin Hawthorne, for a

violation of team rules. Hoke didn’t specify which team rules were

broken.

The loss of Floyd could be costly for Michigan because the

Wolverines have one of the best pass defenses in the FBS, allowing

an average of 155.2 yards.

Thompson or Shaw will have to compensate for a team without

injured star running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a

devastating season-ending knee injury against Tennessee on Oct. 27

and opted to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the

draft Dec. 12.

This is Spurrier’s second trip to the Outback Bowl and fourth

overall for South Carolina. The Gamecocks beat Ohio State in both

2001 and 2002, but lost to Iowa in their most recent appearance in

2009.

The teams have split two all-time meetings, with Michigan

winning the most recent one in 1985.