Michigan and South Carolina will battle it out for the 2013 Outback Bowl in a game that should be highly contested on the defensive side of the ball. Both clubs were ranked in the Top 12 in the country in total defense and that should translate in a game between the Big Ten and SEC.
However, nobody is really giving the Wolverines much of a chance in this game. They have looked real inconsistent throughout the season and haven't fared well against some of the better competition on the schedule. The Gamecocks are that SEC powerhouse that everybody falls in love with this time of year.
If it means anything to you, we just saw the LSU Tigers lose to the Clemson Tigers last night in the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
So what does Michigan have to do to give an SEC team another loss this bowl season?
Let's find out.
Protect the Quarterback
Michigan has done a solid job all season of protecting the quarterback. The 15 sacks given up on the year is the fewest in the Big Ten. However, the Wolverines weren't going up against a South Carolina pass-rush all season long. In the season-opener against Alabama, the Crimson Tide was consistently generating pressure up front and getting to quarterback Denard Robinson.
In this game, Michigan will have to block the best pass-rusher in the country with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney coming off the edge. The good thing is that offensive tackle Taylor Lewan should be able to keep him check for most of the game. The problem is that the Gamecocks also have an athletic pass-rusher on the other side in Devin Taylor that could create problems.
The Wolverines need to do a good job of moving the pocket and buy quarterback Devin Gardner more time to throw the football. Having him drop back and remain in the pocket may not bode well and would be asking a lot of the offensive line.
Whenever you are playing a great pass-rushing team such as South Carolina, protecting the quarterback is a must in order to survive.
Get Creative with Denard Robinson
According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Robinson will not be the starting quarterback in this game, as he is still dealing with a nerve issue that has sidelined him for quite some time. But just because he won't be the full-time starter at his usual position doesn't mean he won't see the field in different ways.
“Yeah, probably,” head coach Brady Hoke said when asked if he will play in the game. “Everything else is possible with him athletically. He won’t punt.”
While punting is out of the question, Robinson does make a terrific running back. In the game against Ohio State, the senior had this 67-yard touchdown run when he lined up as a running back. He also caught two passes in the game against Iowa and showed that he can be a threat at the wide receiver position.
I think Robinson should be used all over the field simply because it is his last game and he should go out with a bang considering he has been one of the most exciting players in recent memory.
But regardless of which position he spends most of his time lining up at, Robinson is somebody who needs to have the ball in his hands with the open field in front of him. Hopefully Al Borges has drawn up many creative plays for "Shoelace" because he gives the Wolverines that playmaker on the offensive side of the ball.
Force Connor Shaw into Mistakes
According to reports, Shaw will be the starting quarterback in this matchup. He does bring experience and a dual-threat skill set to the table, but he also has made his fair share of mistakes and has inconsistent performances throughout his career.
The Michigan pass defense is ranked second in the country, but it will be without starting cornerback J.T. Floyd, who is suspended for this game. Still, this is a talented unit that has only allowed 12 touchdown passes throughout the year and has not allowed a 200-passing-yard performance all season long.
Who wins the game?
South Carolina on the other hand has to rely on Shaw to make plays with his arm. With Marcus Lattimore injured and no longer on the field, the running game has really taken a nosedive and has put a lot of pressure on the passing game to succeed.
There have only been three rushing touchdowns in the last three games and the team has failed to average at least three yards a carry in two of those contests.
If Michigan can force Shaw to win the game with his arm, there is a good chance there will be a few mistakes made. He has thrown at least one interception in four of the last five games. In the five games this season when Michigan has won the turnover battle, or it was even, the team has managed to win.
Force Shaw to take over the game and the Wolverines will likely come out victorious.
Note: All stats come from CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.