TAMPA — Wanting more speed to defend against a mobile quarterback in Tuesday's Outback Bowl, expect South Carolina to break loose its "Rabbit" defensive package, which uses four defensive ends in obvious passing situations.
"We've totally dedicated ourselves to playing with four ends in passing situations this season," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Sunday after a morning practice at Jefferson High School. "You want to utilize your talent, and we didn't think we had much power inside. What we want to do to counteract that in passing situations is, instead of having guys push the pocket, let's put more speed out there."
The Gamecocks have an All-America end in sophomore Jadeveon Clowney (13 sacks), but the package showcases their depth at the position — backups Chaz Sutton (five sacks) and Aldrick Fordham (41/2) play in the Rabbit. The alignment is the creation of defensive line coach Brad Lawing, going back 25 years to his early days at Appalachian State.
"He does a great job of attacking people and the way they protect (against) us," Ward said. "I've never been around (a four-end look), nowhere I've ever been."
Third down could be a key — Michigan, with a pair of dual-threat passers in Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, ranks sixth nationally in third-down conversions at 51 percent. South Carolina's third-down defense ranks 36th nationally at 36 percent.
"Down and distance is what dictates it, but we'll definitely put the Rabbits on the field," Ward said.
RUNNING AGAIN: South Carolina lost top RB Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee injury four games ago, and the injuries mounted enough that the Gamecocks finished a win against Clemson with WR Bruce Ellington getting five carries.
The five weeks since have allowed backs Kenny Miles (358 yards) and Mike Davis (275 yards) to fully recover. The two combined for 27 carries for 90 yards in a win against Arkansas and 28 carries for 88 yards against Clemson, with Miles rushing for 127 yards in an easy win against Wofford.
HOPING TO RUN: Robinson has been Michigan's best running threat, but the Wolverines have struggled at running back since losing starter Fitzgerald Toussaint to a late-season ankle injury. Backups Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls combined for just 14 yards on 10 carries in the last game, a loss to undefeated Ohio State, but coach Brady Hoke is confident they'll have more of a traditional running game Tuesday.
"We have not been a football team that has run the ball great from the tailback perspective for multiple reasons, so that's going to be a challenge we'll start with," Hoke said Saturday. "In the game of football, you've got to take care of the football and you've got to be able to run the ball and stop the run. If you can do those things, you've got a chance."
THIS AND THAT: The two schools have only played twice: South Carolina rallied from a 14-3 deficit behind Heisman winner George Rogers for a 17-14 win in 1980, and Michigan cruised 34-3 in 1985. … A win would give Steve Spurrier the most bowl wins of any South Carolina head coach — three. "(Michigan has) a history of playing well in bowl games," Spurrier said Saturday. "Our history is so-so, not all that super." … Hoke, on Robinson's versatility: "He could do about anything. He doesn't punt real well, but he can do a lot of things."