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Outback Bowl: South Carolina’s offense, interim OC hit stride in second half

TAMPA — For a while in Monday’s Outback Bowl, South Carolina’s offense — under new management from interim offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon — couldn’t seem to do much of anything.

The Gamecocks were 0-for-6 on third down in the first half, and Michigan led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter.

But head coach Will Muschamp didn’t stress out about his rookie play-caller, and he didn’t even visit the offensive staff at halftime. Muschamp had confidence, he said, in McClendon’s ability to make the right adjustments.

And as the game progressed in the second half, McClendon did just that, helping lead the Gamecocks to victory with 23 unanswered points in the final quarter and a half.

After the game, Muschamp, who fired former offensive coordinator Kurt Roper earlier this month, was vague about McClendon’s future in the position. He was quick, though, to dish out credit where credit was due.

"I thought Bryan McClendon did an outstanding job preparing our football team offensively and the entire offensive staff going into this game," he said. "I’m not going to address anything else about the offensive coordinator position at this time, but I’m really impressed with Bryan and the job that he did."

South Carolina was just the fifth team to have at least 300 yards of offense against a Michigan squad that came into the matchup ranked third nationally in total defense.

The explosiveness of the second half, tailback Rico Dowdle said, displayed exactly the kind of potential the Gamecocks have on offense.

"The first half, we were moving the ball pretty well. They have a good front seven, that was a little bit of a disturbance," Dowdle said. "We had some great calls from Coach McClendon. He called it great. Then in the second half we put it together, put up points and got the W."

Game day ready

South Carolina’s offense was largely a run-by-committee operation, as three guys finished with at least 200 yards rushing this season. For much of it, that committee didn’t include Dowdle.

In a win against Tennessee on Oct. 14, Dowdle fractured a bone in his leg, and although Muschamp announced in early December he’d be able to return in time for the bowl game, Dowdle missed practices this week, and Muschamp told reporters on Thursday that he didn’t expect him to play.

But Sunday, things took a turn for the better.

"I didn’t feel like he’d play in the game (earlier this week)," Muschamp said. "But we gave it a go in pregame and he said, ‘Hey, I feel good. I want to give this a shot.’ "

The last-minute decision paid off for the Gamecocks, who saw 47 yards rushing, including a 17-yard touchdown, from the sophomore.

"I didn’t really see him practice that much, but he showed up game day," LB Skai Moore said. "It surprised me, but he’s a ballplayer, so it didn’t surprise me too much. He makes plays."

This and that

Monday’s Outback Bowl was Muschamp’s first victory in Raymond James Stadium, he said. He previously lost games in Tampa with the Miami Dolphins and two as a graduate assistant and defensive coach at Auburn. … Michigan K Quinn Nordin tied the Outback Bowl record with four made field goals Monday. Penn State’s Travis Forney was the last to do that in 1999. … South Carolina’s Moore became just the 15th player in Division I-A history to lead his team in tackles for four seasons. He finished with 93, adding five against the Wolverines.

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