Dec 30, 2001

Exactly one year after South Carolina topped Ohio State in the 2001 Outback Bowl, the same two teams find themselves in the same spot.

For the first time in the 16-year history of the Outback Bowl, the same programs will meet in consecutive years. With a new coach at the helm, the 22nd-ranked Buckeyes (7-4) will be looking to avenge last year’s 24-7 loss when they meet the 14th-ranked Gamecocks (8-3) in Tampa on Tuesday.

“We didn’t play real well down there last year, so this is a chance for us to hopefully redeem ourselves,” Ohio State linebacker Joe Cooper said.

Last year’s Outback Bowl turned out to be John Cooper’s final game as the Buckeyes’ coach. First-year coach Jim Tressel will look to tailback Jonathan Wells to carry the Buckeyes in the rematch. Wells finished his senior campaign with 1,257 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

In Ohio State’s final regular season game, a 26-20 upset of then-No. 11 Michigan, Wells’ running kept the Wolverines from sharing the Big Ten championship, as he ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns.

Wells closed out the season by rushing for over 100 yards in five consecutive games, including a career-high 192 against Illinois on Nov. 17. His average of 114.3 rushing yards was 19th in the nation.

While Wells and a veteran offensive line – led by first-team All-America center LeCharles Bentley – anchor an impressive rushing attack, the Buckeye’s passing game may get a boost with the return of quarterback Steve Bellisari.

Sophomore Craig Krenzel started his first career game under center against Michigan, completing 11-of-18 for 118 yards, after Bellisari was arrested for drunken driving a week earlier.

In nine games this season, Bellisari completed 98-of-185 for 1,599 yards and eight touchdowns. He also threw six interceptions.

While the Buckeyes will be making their 12th bowl appearance in 13 years, the Gamecocks are playing in a bowl game in consecutive years for the first time in the program’s 108-year history.

This was the second straight season in which the Gamecocks won eight games and the first time they’ve been ranked for the entire season. In 1998 and 1999, South Carolina was 1-21.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to believe we’ve done this,” said tailback-wide receiver Ryan Brewer, last year’s Outback Bowl MVP who accounted for 214 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in the win.

Brewer could once again cause trouble for the Buckeyes this year. The versatile junior is averaging 30.5 receiving yards and 11.4 rushing yards per game.

But the balanced attack led by quarterback Phil Petty has several dangerous threats. Petty completed 145-of-251 for 1,699 yards and touchdowns this season.

Tailback Derek Watson and fullback Andrew Pinnock split duty in the backfield, averaging 53.7 and 52.1 rushing yards per game respectively.

South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said he expects Watson, who missed last season’s Outback Bowl due to a team suspension, to play an important role.

“Derek is a big game player,” Holtz said. “We want to get him the ball in the open field as much as possible.”

Last year’s Outback Bowl was the only previous meeting between Ohio State and South Carolina.