TAMPA, FL (WIS) - For Gamecock fans, the outcome of the game looked as gloomy as the weather in Tampa early on.
Will Muschamp's squad had very little going for them and trailed Michigan 19-3 at one point, but they didn't quit. In fact, South Carolina rallied in the second half posting 23 unanswered points to come away with a 26-19 win over Michigan.
"Huge win for our football program," Muschamp said. "We don't have all the trophies and the tradition and the history, but we've got some grit. We've got some toughness and resolve. We're 10-3 in one-score games in two years. Our players understand how to win close ballgames. You saw us down 19-3. Not a lot of good things happening for us and we found some things.
The first half proved to be a low-scoring affair for both teams. Michigan would strike first after recovering a muffed punt. The miscue, however, would only lead to a 35-yard field goal to make it 3-0 with 3:42 left in the half.
The turnover bug bit the Gamecocks again with 2:25 left in the quarter. A handoff from Jake Bentley to A.J. Turner was dropped on the turf and Chase Winovich would come away with the recovery putting the Wolverines on the Carolina 31-yard line. In the end, Michigan would only come away with another Nordin field goal to push their lead to 6-0 with nine seconds left in the opening period.
The Gamecocks would finally get on the board during their second drive of the second quarter. A 38-yard pass from Bentley to Bryan Edwards put USC in Michigan territory, but Muschamp's squad would have to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Parker White to cut the lead down to 6-3 with 8:45 to go in the half.
Both teams would struggle offensively for the remainder of the quarter. Combined, the Gamecocks and Wolverines tallied 101 yards of total offense in the half. Ultimately, Jim Harbaugh's team would extend their lead with Nordin's third field goal of the day as time expired. The 45-yard kick put Michigan up 9-3 at the break.
The Wolverines would put the first touchdown of the day on the board in the third quarter. After Brandon Peters went a perfect 4-for-4 on the drive to get Michigan in the red zone, Ben Mason punched it in from one yard out on the seventh play of the drive making it 16-3.
Despite Nordin tying an Outback Bowl record with four field goals, the Gamecocks began to rally. With 2:25 left in the third, Rico Dowdle's 17-yard run would put Carolina back in it. However, a failed 2-point conversion made it 19-9. On Michigan's next possession, Peters fumbled the football and Steven Montac recovered the loose ball. One play later, Bentley connected with Edwards on a 21-yard touchdown pass to make it 19-16 with 57 seconds left.
"That was the big thing coming into the game," Gamecocks quarterback and Outback Bowl MVP Jake Bentley said. "We said if we get a turnover, we're taking a shot. Bryan made a great catch, unbelievable catch. Just a big momentum play for us and just a big play overall."
Bentley wasn't done. The sophomore tossed a 53-yard touchdown pass to Shi Smith making it 23-19 and putting Carolina on top for the first time today.
We did a lot of fake snaps and did a check with coach," Bentley explained. "He makes the guy miss and makes a big play for us and takes it to the house. Once again, it's about the whole offense being really great today."
Michigan had one last chance to tie things up late in the fourth quarter, but Peters would throw his second interception of the day to Steven Montac to seal the win.
South Carolina finishes the season at 9-4 overall, but they're already looking ahead. In fact, Muschamp and the Gamecocks know their work is already cut out for them.
"We need to have a great offseason," Muschamp said. "I thanked the seniors, but I told the underclassmen when you come back in January, all gas, no brakes. Let's get ready to roll and that's what we need. You've got to keep pressing forward. You've got to stay hungry in everything you do and that's what we're going to do in our program, and certainly, we've scratched the surface of what I think we can do."