No. 18 Michigan has one final game left this season and will spend the next month working a game plan to ensure that this campaign ends with a victory.
No. 10 South Carolina will provide a tough challenge for the Wolverines, and Brady Hoke will need to ensure that he takes advantage of his team’s strengths.
The Outback Bowl will be decided by a few key matchups, and Michigan can improve to 9-5 on the season if it focuses on these areas of the game.
Here are the matchups that will decide the Wolverines showdown with the Gamecocks.
Taylor Lewan vs. Jadeveon Clowney
No matchup will be more exciting than Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Lewan is the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, and Clowney’s 13 sacks is the highest total in the nation this season. This will be a battle between top-class talents.
If Clowney is a disruptive force in the backfield, Michigan will struggle on offense, but Lewan is one of the few players in the nation capable of containing the sophomore.
This showdown at the line of scrimmage will have massive impact on the game, and if Lewan plays up to his potential, the Wolverines will stand an excellent chance to earn a victory.
Battle of the Backup Running Backs
Both of these teams entered the season with talented players at tailback.
Fitzgerald Toussaint was coming off a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore, but a leg injury he suffered against Iowa required season-ending surgery.
South Carolina’s loss was even greater, as Marcus Lattimore entered 2012 with Heisman hopes. He had 662 yards and 11 touchdowns before sustaining a horrific knee injury that ended his junior season.
Thomas Rawls has taken over the starting spot for Michigan, but questions certainly remain about his ability to produce. Kenny Miles has been bumped up from his understudy role, but he has not been overly impressive either.
Whichever running back has the better day will give their team a clear advantage in this game.
Michigan Red Zone Offense vs. South Carolina Red Zone Defense
South Carolina ranks 13th in the nation in points allowed per game while Michigan ranks 16th in the same category. Both teams are stingy on defense, and both offenses must finish off drives.
Who will win the Outback Bowl?
As MLive.com’s Kyle Meinke notes, the Wolverines turned 92.3 percent of their red zone possessions into points, which was the fourth-best conversion rate in the country. The Gamecocks, in contrast, rank 53rd in the nation in this statistic.
If Michigan can ensure that this trend continues, it will have an edge in this matchup.
Points will be hard to come by in this game, but if the Wolverines score when they get in the red zone, they will win the Outback Bowl.