Tampa, Fla. — It will be the game within the game.
Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan will face perhaps his biggest challenge on New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl when he goes up against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
All eyes will be on Lewan, the 6-foot-8, 310-pound junior who will weigh his NFL options after the bowl game, and 6-foot-6, 256-pound Clowney, the Hendricks Award winner this year as the nation's best defensive end.
"Those two and the battle they will have I'm looking forward to watch and see," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said during a recent radio interview.
Clowney was dominating this season with 21.5 tackles for loss and a Southeastern Conference-leading 13 sacks, including 4.5 against Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. He said recently he believes a defensive player can win the Heisman Trophy next season, of course meaning not just any defensive player. Clowney finished sixth in voting this year.
Much already has been made of Lewan vs. Clowney, but the South Carolina standout said the one-on-one position-battle hype doesn't captivate him.
"I don't care about that," Clowney said. "I just want to get the win, whatever it takes. I don't care about who I'm going up against. They could put me against any tackle in the NFL I face, it doesn't matter to me. I don't pay no attention. I just go out there and play my game, period.
"I take every game as a challenge, I don't care who it is. I want to face the best. Obviously, he's one of the best."
Lewan was voted the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year, and has received high marks as a potential first-round draft pick should he decide to leave Michigan for the NFL with one year of eligibility left. It is a decision Lewan has said he has not made yet.
But for now, Lewan's focus is helping Michigan (8-4) earn a ninth win.
Clowney said he's watched plenty of film on Lewan.
"I didn't really know anything about him," Clowney said. "I've watched him a lot, which I do with every tackle. I watch every tackle. He's pretty good. He moves pretty well.
"He don't give up on no block. He's always running downfield to block. I love his game. He plays with attitude and effort. He gives great effort on the field. He moves his feet better than any tackle I've ever faced. He's got a pretty good game."
Stopping Clowney might be impossible. Slowing him is a tough task, too.
Only a couple games this season, including against LSU, he felt he was slowed, but in general this season?
"I don't know," he said, smiling. "Y'all watch the games. Y'all watch the tape. Y'all tell me."
Hoke said during the SiriusXM interview that the offense will have to do different things to attempt to stop Clowney.
"You've got to do some things that maybe he's not as ready for," Hoke said. "He's probably seen about everything, but you may chip him a little bit, you might keep your tight end in a little bit to help out.
"I just think you can't be the same. You've got to change up enough, so you give him a couple different looks."
While the Lewan vs. Clowney storyline is one that has been bandied about in the media, the players are aware of the matchup, as well.
Michigan senior left guard Ricky Barnum praised Clowney.
"He's a great player: he's athletic, he's fast, he's strong," Barnum said Wednesday night after the Outback Bowl welcome dinner. "He's probably one of the best defensive ends we'll face all year.
"He causes problems."
Barnum will have a ringside seat to see how Lewan and Clowney cause problems for each other.
"That's a matchup everybody is waiting to see," Barnum said. "Taylor is a hell of a player and so is Clowney."
He said all of the linemen, not just Lewan, are taking it personally the battle within the battle.
"Because we all want to win this game," Barnum said.