Photo: Sara Yang/The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina uses New Year's Day magic to pull of comeback win in Outback Bowl

New Year's Day sparked fireworks in South Carolina as the Gamecocks battled to beat Michigan and win the 2018 Outback Bowl 26-19. 

The game was a punt fest at the beginning, as neither team could get anything else going. Early in the first, the punters had a combined 142 yards, while the combined offense had just eight yards. By the end of the first quarter, there were 85 total yards and five punts. Furthermore, at the end of the first half, Michigan led 9-3 and the kickers looked to be the only ones who showed up to Tampa. 

Head coach Will Muschamp said he wasn't concerned about the slow start, stating he had "total confidence" they would bounce back. 

The Wolverines worked quickly in the third to get the first touchdown of the game, and later Quinn Nordin made yet another field goal. That was all we would see from their offense. 

Down 19-3, Jake Bentley made back-to-back first downs to move his team down the field. He gave the ball to Rico Dowdle who found an opening and ran it in for 17 yards, starting the comeback. 

A few plays later, Javon Kinlaw was there to recover a fumble, and Bentley wasted no time to send a rocket to Bryan Edwards in the end zone, making it 19-16 with Michigan leading at the end of the third. The Gamecocks finally looked like they had some momentum going and this completely changed the ball game. 

Bentley then found Shi Smith for another touchdown, which gave the Gamecocks their first lead of the game. Bentley was named Outback Bowl MVP after bouncing back from a tough start to the game. He finished the day 19-32 with 239 yards and two touchdowns. But Bentley said that title isn't about just him. 

"That trophy's not going in my room or my house ... it's going in our offensive team room," Bentley said. "... It's for all of us." 

Late in the game, Michigan's Donovan Peoples-Jones muffed the punt and AJ Turner recovered it. Parker White made the 22-yard kick to make it 26-19. 

With 1:05 left,  Peters made one last attempt on a fourth down, but his pass was intercepted by Steven Montac to give South Carolina their first bowl game win since 2014. 

Even though it took a while for the South Carolina offense to get going, the defense had a strong showing. They forced an interception and fumble, both in the red zone, and allowed just two third-down conversions on 17 attempts. 

Special teams struggled, especially early in the game. Muschamp said those were caused due to some miscommunication between players.

"Chris [Lammons] thought Javon Charleston hit the ball on the punt return," Muschamp said. "We've had two situations with that this year where we've not done a good job of communicating with that." 

Dowdle surprised everyone with his presence in the game, as his playing availability was questionable for most of the week. In his first game back since Oct. 14, Dowdle looked like his normal self again. He had 77 total yards of offense and one touchdown. According to Muschamp, Dowdle went to him on Sunday asking for the shot to play. 

This marks South Carolina's ninth win of the season, which they've only achieved seven times in program history. Muschamp said this is only the beginning for the Gamecocks. 

"All gas, no brakes," Muschamp said. "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."



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