It wasn’t the original injury South Carolina running back Rico Dowdle had to overcome to play in the Outback Bowl against Michigan. It was the second one.
A fractured fibula cost him the final five games of the season. A mild hamstring strain had Will Muschamp announce days before the game that Dowdle wouldn’t play.
Yet a few series in Monday, there he was.
“I’ve been knowing I was going to play,” Dowdle said, “kind of all week. It’s just been like a day-to-day thing.
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“I felt good, for the most part. ... Just trained and rehabbed right.”
Even at what he guessed was 80 percent or so, he made two vital plays on his six carries. With his team down 19-3, he took an option pitch from Jake Bentley and cut all the way past Michigan’s defense for USC’s first touchdown. In the fourth quarter, he broke a 30-yard sweep, helping shift field position after a crucial stop for USC.
Despite Dowdle’s confidence, Muschamp had been less sure of his back’s status deep into bowl prep.
“Not til yesterday,” Muschamp said. “He came to me ... We gave it a go in pregame. He said, ‘Today I feel good. I want to give this a shot.’ He certainly gave us a charge.”
Line battles injuries
Gamecocks guard Donell Stanley also tried to go in pregame, but could not. Offensive tackle Zack Bailey didn’t play the first two series because of injury, then came in later in the first quarter.
Bailey’s play was notable as USC needed every capable hand to even slow a Michigan pass rush that controlled the tone of the game early. His play impressed his teammates.
“The guy’s a warrior,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “There’s no one, really on that offensive line, that’s 100 percent, and for him to come in and play the way he did, it’s a gutty performance.
“Goes to show what kind of person he is. What kind of player he is.”