Taylor Lewan not limited by shoulder injury heading into matchup with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney
Michigan junior left tackle Taylor Lewan was the Big Ten's best offensive lineman this year and is projected to be a top-15 NFL Draft pick if he leaves school early.
South Carolina sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney leads the nation in sacks and is second in tackles for loss, and already is projected as a top-10 draft pick if he leaves school next year.
They are two of college football's nastiest linemen.
And on New Year's Day, they will collide.
No. 19 Michigan (8-4) and No. 11 South Carolina (10-2) accepted bids to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, which sets up the anticipated matchup between Lewan and Clowney on Jan. 1.
Lewan has battled various injuries throughout this season, and briefly left the Wolverines' regular-season finale against Ohio State with a shoulder injury, but says he's "all right" heading into the first week of prep for the matchup.
He anticipates being fully healthy by game time.
"It's been a week," Lewan said Saturday in Indianapolis. "I mean, can't loom on those things too much. That kind of stuff is going to happen. It's the 12th game of the season. All that stuff happens for a reason, and you just got to keep playing."
Lewan said he wasn't limited by the injury last week, when Michigan lifted but didn't practice, and "probably will do all that stuff to the fullest" this week.
His availability is integral to Michigan's chances against South Carolina, which is 10-2 this season and finished 6-2 in the the SEC, football's toughest conference.
While the Gamecocks' offense doesn't scare, especially with star tailback Marcus Lattimore out for the season, the defense offers bite. South Carolina is ranked 12th nationally in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. It held opponents to 20 or fewer points in nine of its 12 games.
The Gamecocks' pass rush has been a particular strength, racking up 40 sacks, sixth in the country. That could pose a mismatch against Michigan, whose offensive line has struggled this year.
Clowney will be the biggest concern. He's been a menace since he first stepped foot on campus last year, racking up 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks in limited action as a freshmen, then busting out with a 13-sack regular season this year.
It will be Lewan's responsibility to contain Clowney, giving time for quarterback Devin Gardner to operate Michigan's new pass-first offense.
And that's what Lewan plans to do, whether or not he's banged up.
That's a lesson he learned from former Michigan center David Molk.
"Molk is not the smartest guy in the world, to any degree, but I will say one of the best (pieces of) advice he's given me is: 'The less you talk about it, the less pain you'll feel,'" said Lewan, who has started 27 consecutive games and never missed a game due to injury. "It's a mental game, more than anything else, and I feel like I've done a good job of playing through injuries.
"I know my mom gets worried sick, but that’s her deal. She’s going to worry about everything, right? She’s mom."