Michigan wants to end the season on a winning note after losing to rival Ohio State in the final game of the regular season. The Wolverines face a difficult challenge, however, going up against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
High expectations paired with some disappointing results have led to a lot of frustration for Michigan fans. A bowl win would help ease the pain a bit. The Wolverines are slight underdogs against a Gamecocks squad that finished No. 10 in the BCS.
Here's a breakdown of the most important keys to success for Michigan as it gets prepared for battle on New Year's Day.
Contain Kenny Miles and Mike Davis
The good news for the Michigan defense is that it doesn't have to face Marcus Lattimore. The hard-luck running back suffered a serious leg injury in late October. The Wolverines still have to deal with Miles and Davis, though, who did a nice job filling the void.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw's status for the game remains up in the air. Whether it's him or Dylan Thompson under center, the task for Michigan remains the same. It has to make the Gamecocks offense one-dimensional.
That means slowing down Miles and Davis, thereby forcing Shaw or Thompson into a lot of difficult passing situations. It's the only way to contain an offense that started to find its stride during the final month of the regular season.
Which team will win the Outback Bowl?
As expected, the main talking point since the bowl game was announced has surrounded the quarterback situation. Everyone wants to know if Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner will get the nod. In reality, both QBs should get plenty of action.
South Carolina has a strong defense, led by star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who racked up 13 sacks during the regular season. If Michigan tries to use a basic approach, the Gamecocks will be able to take control pretty easily.
The Wolverines have to mix up their looks to keep them off balance. Using Robinson—a playmaker no matter where you put him—in different roles gives Brady Hoke some flexibility. It doesn't matter who starts as long as both are used effectively.
Improve Second-Half Offense
One of Michigan's biggest problems was finding ways to score points in the second half, especially against strong competition. In the team's four losses, it scored just 16 combined points in the game's final 30 minutes.
Whether it's poor play-calling decisions from offensive coordinator Al Borges, failed halftime adjustments from Hoke or the players simply not executing is up for debate. In reality, it's likely a mix of all three problems.
It should be a close game, which means points in the second half will be necessary to earn the victory. Michigan must find a way to bring an end to the second-half trend. If it doesn't, the Gamecocks will hand the Wolverines their fifth loss.