As the scoreboard read 19-3 in the second half of the Outback Bowl against the Wolverines of Michigan, I started to think that this would be the second straight bowl loss for the Gamecocks of South Carolina. Then Jake Bentley relaxed, and the defense rose to the challenge to get this team back into the game.
In the first half of the game, it seemed that no one wanted to find the end zone, going into half Michigan was leading 9-3 and the Gamecocks had given up two turnovers, which led to 6 points. On Michigan’s first drive of the second half, the Wolverines drove down the field and got into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. Toward the end of the third quarter, something just clicked on both sides of the ball. In the second half, the defense came alive in a big way to force an Outback Bowl tying record 5 turnovers. Yes, the Gamecocks defense forced 5 second-half turnovers.
After Michigan got out to the 19-3 lead in the second half, every unit for the Gamecocks finally woke up. Through most of the game, Jake Bentley, the QB for the Gamecocks, was only completing half of his passes and had an interception. Then once the defense got going, the energy that they had transferred to the young QB and the offense and woke them up like someone having their coffee in the morning.
Once the offense woke up, Bentley would go 8/10 and 2 touchdowns following the 11/22 and 1 interception start and lead the team to a 26-19 win over the Michigan Wolverines. That overall would be impressive for him as a young QB, who should be a freshman right now. As the third and fourth quarters progressed, you could tell that this young man was starting to relax and lock in on his targets.
Another interesting fact of the game was that the Gamecocks made an offensive coordinator change at the beginning of December when Will Muschamp let Kurt Roper go and allowed Bryan McClendon, the wide receiver coach and shared the OC position with Roper, to play the calls and “audition” for the full-time coordinator position. If the second half of the game indicates anything, then it points to momentum going into the offseason and the next season, it also indicates that McClendon could be the favorite to land the full-time position.
Right now, the future looks bright for this young program. According to ESPN, 70% of this program is made up of freshmen and sophomores. Fans should be excited about this team that has come so far since only winning 3 games two years ago.