rundown of Michigan's riser
1/1/2012 – Michigan 28, South Carolina 33 – 8-5, EOS
Well, it's over.
A confession: before yesterday I had attended one bowl game in my life, that the 2007 Rose Bowl in which Michigan was tied 3-3 with USC at halftime and got their doors blown off in the second half when Pete Carroll told his OC to stop running the ball, period. That was crushing despite the inevitability of the loss once Michigan's severe lack of corner depth was put to the test.
This game was far closer to even—South Carolina was in fact one yard better than M before their final drive, one which almost didn't get off the ground—and yet by the time I exited the stadium I was pretty much over it. This was weird for all sorts of reasons, foremost among them a sense that I would have cared more if I had watched it on TV. As the game reached its frenetic pitch I did reconnect, to my relief. Still, it took a lot to recover from finding out Michigan had been designated Team Coconut Shrimp, or something. There's just not that much difference between four and five losses.
In retrospect this season lost its urgency the moment Denard's elbow banged the Memorial Stadium turf and Michigan's offense died in Lincoln. That game staked the Huskers to a lead they would not relinquish no matter how they tried. Michigan was reduced to playing out the string without Senior Hero at quarterback, without a shot at the Big Ten championship, without the storybook ending every Michigan fan entered the year pining for.
There were moments of vitality when it looked like Nebraska might blow it, but Michigan wasn't playing those games. By the time the bowl rolled around it was exhibition time, with little on the line other than a few spots in a poll that would have Michigan 15th at best. A starting cornerback and the punter confirmed that analysis by violating team rules and being left home.
I went to see Denard for a last time, and ended up squinting to make sure he wasn't Vincent Smith. He ran 23 times, picked up 100 yards, ground out 4.8 yards a carry, and reminded me of that picture of Mike Hart in a Colts uniform Johnny put up in a post, where Hart looked old—erosion old—and like he was doing something as a job. It took about 20 open tabs to find it, but yeah.
I think Johnny was maybe projecting his own thought processes onto Hart a little when he wrote this…
But he’s more mechanical now; he doesn't smile like he used to, he isn’t as self-indulgent. His cuts aren’t as risky – more just graceful, cautious lunges. He’s a professional now, measured and stoic and less eccentric. He looks stronger, and too focused. It used to just be a playful resentment for the institution, but now he seems like he respects it. It’s like the NFL has tranquilized him.
…because I know that Denard hasn't changed much since he made everyone laugh and caused me to bolt upright when he ran through two Ohio State tackles at the end of the first half of The Game.
It is the end, though, and Denard looks like this
and I'm a little disoriented. This season was not supposed to end with Peter Pan becoming an accountant.
He was good. He seemed like a plausible NFL running back once he learns how to block. He joins LSU's Jeremy Hill as the only running back not from Wofford's triple option to crack 100 yards against Clowney and company. For him there is still a lot at stake, and yesterday was important. It is a fine career that awaits him.
But I just keep thinking of that throw he made, and what it represented. How those moments where he'd go to the sideline holding his hand built up and finally washed over the levee. If his arm had held up, or Rich Rodriguez had recruited some OL, or Devin Gardner had stayed at quarterback… if.
That's a burden now: what if Denard dot dot dot. Instead of an exclamation point, we end with an ellipses. Unspoken thoughts, trailing off. Re-carving a rock-hard past into something more pleasing. What could have been, etc.
I don't understand why I felt disconnected. I guess it was because this thing I was at was not what I thought it would be, and for once someone managed to keep Denard from obliterating all doubt.
Well okay. No real complaints about Borges this time around, but it was really odd how South Carolina reacted to the Denard plays at QB, all predictable runs save the attempted screen. They still dropped a safety 20-30 yards deep, sometimes two guys at 15 yards, and while they tended to blitz they did not sell out like Ohio State did in the second half, even after Denard's lame duck of a throw.
I'm still a little disappointed that Denard wasn't used more as an attention-grabbing decoy. Despite that Michigan had a solid day on offense that would have verged on excellent if Gardner's accuracy had been better.
Wither Northwestern/Iowa Devin? With five games under his belt I think we can say that Gardner's accuracy leaves a bit to be desired. The Minnesota game was effective but shaky; he blew through Northwestern and Iowa, and now he's had a couple of games where some bad decisions and awkward throws hurt him against quality defenses.
In this one he hit 18 of 36 for 214 yards, 3 TDs, and an interception. 5.9 YPA is poor. There were throws to make there, and he just missed them. He made up for that with a couple scrambles, I guess.
WR corps 2013: not a problem maybe? Jeremy Gallon may be small in stature, but he is his own imaginary 11-foot-tall friend made of dreams. This is not quite the rocket boots touchdown from the Minnesota game, but I mean come on pretty nice:
Meanwhile, his other touchdown came on a post route on which he got open one-on-one a play after he smoked that same corner crispy on a corner route that Gardner actually threw a split second too early, before Gallon had even made his break. The TD:
Gardner trusts the guy to get open, that's clear.
His 9 catches and 145 yards push him up to 49 and 825 on the year, which is impressive production given that he caught a lot of screens that would normally make achieving a 16.8 YPC impossible and that the quarterbacking for much of the year was erratic.
Gallon's season totals are now in a virtual dead heat with Kenny Bell and Jared Abbrederis for second in the league behind thousand-yard-guy Allen Robinson of Penn State, and he made an array of tough catches without more than a drop or two all season.
As a senior is he a quality #1 option? I think the answer there is clearly yes. Take his production in the Gardner era and extrapolate it across as season and you get 81 catches for 1329 yards—ie, one of the top ten receivers in the country.
I'll be interested to see what his yards per target is if Football Study Hall updates those numbers that showed Junior Hemingway was probably the most underrated player at Michigan in a long time. While Gallon's small stature doesn't hurt him in the UFR catch numbers, the simple fact that he's not 6'4" turns balls that Devin Funchess could nab easily into uncatchable zeroes. I think he'll come out well—last year he was top five in yards per target with a per-catch average of 14.6.
Add in Dileo—an excellent underneath option—with a maturing Funchess and you only need one of Darboh/Chesson to step up to have a solid set of options.
Nope, but pretty much anyway. Denard bludgeoned out 100 yards on 23 carries as basically a tailback, which was quite good against a quality run defense behind an offensive line that couldn't get anyone else an inch. It, however, dropped Denard's season YPC to 7.2, a tenth behind Ty Wheatley's 1992 campaign. If we take out sacks Robinson suffered he would pop back above Wheatley, but that's not how it looks in the record book.
Of course if we're going to start poking around at sacks we might as well take a larger view. This line versus to Michigan's 1992 outfit featuring future longtime pro Steve Everitt, three other All Big Ten linemen (Joe Cocozzo, Rob Doherty, and Doug Skene) plus future first-round NFL draft pick Trezelle Jenkins*? There is no comparison. Four of those guys were drafted, two in the first round. Lewan will go high and I bet Schofield works his way into mid-round consideration, but there's no comparison between the interior lines.
AN IMPORTANT OPEN LETTER FROM MICHIGAN TAILBACKS TO FUTURE GAME SCHEDULES
Dear future Michigan game schedules,
Please endeavor to exclude South Carolina.
Michigan running backs but especially Thomas Wilcher and Vincent Smith
[South Carolina lost that '85 game 34-3, FWIW.]
On the demolishing. Lewan was frank about what happened. Via Andy Staples:
Meanwhile, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges had called a Power run to the left side. Wolverines offensive tackle Taylor Lewan -- whose play against Clowney on Tuesday further solidified his place near the top of the NFL draft if he chooses to turn pro -- noticed something amiss about Clowney's alignment. "The end lined up on me in such a gray area that I had to call a Deuce to the inside," Lewan said. Lewan explained that a Deuce call ties the tackle to the guard, and their responsibilities are the lineman nearest the guard and the backside linebacker. By making the Deuce call, Lewan had untied himself from tight end Mike Kwiatkowski, who had anticipated working in tandem with Lewan on the play. Lewan said Kwiatkowski didn't hear the Deuce call, and video replays make that quite obvious. Kwiatkowski fired off the line at an angle that would have been perfect had he and Lewan been working a combo block. But Lewan was working a combo block with guard Ricky Barnum. Clowney, the owner of one of college football's quickest first steps, shot the gap before Kwiatkowski could realize what happened. "He's got that little slip move," Spurrier said. "When they come at him, they get nothing but air." Smith never had a chance. "That miscommunication," Lewan said. "Those are the plays that can lose games."
Just a miscommunication that got Smith decleated—de-everythinged.
Terry Richardson, Delonte Holowell—thanks for playing. Disclaimers about young players improving apply.
That said, Michigan was so opposed to putting those guys on the field that even after four verts blew them to pieces several times in the previous three quarters Michigan still stuck with a nickel package featuring Jarrod Wilson at free safety and Gordon/Kovacs moving down over the slots, with the subsequent events we all know and are slightly depressed about.
Don't click play if you are still depressed.
Kovacs should never have been put in that position, covering South Carolina's leading receiver, and Jarrod Wilson seems super super late—he should not have been on the field.
That's not Kovacs's game, everyone knows that's not his game, there's a reason he was a walk-on, and for Michigan to resort to that indicates that the two small guys from Cass Tech basically can't see the field, period. As a true freshman Richardson still has some hope of finding his way as a nickel corner down the road; as a redshirt sophomore, if Holowell can't see the field in that game he's never going to. Since spring practice Michigan lost four corners (Floyd, Countess, Talbott, Carter) and still not a sniff. Bad news.
Also, WTF was with moving Norfleet then? At least give the guy a chance to be a third down back—Michigan is now in the market for one.
JT Floyd: guh. Michigan wins this game if they can go to the Avery nickel package with confidence; they couldn't because JT Floyd got left home for the final game of his career. I hope it was worth it, man.
Kenny Demens coverage: missed. I assume that Bolden can get there in time, but not all of the seam bustage was on safteies/corner folk. For one, I blame no one on that Ace Sanders touchdown that was in by about a millimeter—that'll happen. On the tight end completion I bet that was a linebacker not carrying that guy. It's still pretty great that Michigan went much of the game with true freshmen at LB and performed very well against the run.
Beyer will win the WDE spot next year. The huge South Carolina QB run was Frank Clark ignoring backside responsibility and chasing a tailback without the ball as two other guys tackled him. This is a full year after he was biffing these things against Scheelhaase; to make a mistake that momentous on a basic, basic play is a good indication that he's just not getting there mentally. If he was making big plays to repair his mistakes, maybe that's one thing, but the pass rush he adds is minimal. If he doesn't figure it out, he's going to fall off the two deep quickly with Ojemudia and Charlton pressing from behind.
Oblig. game theory bits. Plenty to chew on in this game.
ONE: Fake field goal on which Dileo runs around and stuff for a first down.
The box score has this a 4th and 6 from the 27; in the stadium they had it 4th and 9. Assuming that Everybody Loves Raymond Stadium was wrong, that's a push according to the Advanced NFL Stats calculator. The break even point is 53%; given how Michigan's fake field goals have gone I'd say that's a coin flip. Since M was down 11 at the time, increasing that variance is probably to your advantage.
TWO: Fake punt on which 9.9 yards is basically a first down, man.
This was fourth and four from the Michigan 37.
Loved this. Michigan was up one with around eight minutes left. If you can go on a drive, rip four or five minutes off the clock, and even get a field goal you've tipped the scales in your direction massively. If you fail, you are in a bit of a bad spot but a South Carolina score allows you time to respond. As it happened, Michigan got the first down (sort of) and still felt the sting of what failure would have been like—then they responded with a touchdown drive. Love Hoke going for the jugular there.
THREE: Unsportsmanlike conduct on South Carolina's second-to-last TD.
My initial instinct was to take the penalty on the two-point conversion (argh), which would have put that at the 18 and all but forced a one-point attempt. South Carolina didn't get it and subsequently kicked from the 20; Michigan got it out slightly over the 35.
I still think the play there is to take it on the two-point conversion, as you're significantly reducing the chance that is successful. That seems well worth the ten yards Michigan picked up.
FOUR: Spurrier is not Ferentz.
Michigan's ultimate demise came on another four verts play on which the seam came wide open as a Michigan seam defender—in this case Jordan Kovacs—got smoked. That was pure OBC, and won them the game.
The setup: South Carolina's kicker was 11 of 15 on the season but had missed a moderate length field goal and had another blocked. They had a timeout left, it was second and ten from the 32, and the Gamecocks had been pounding the seams all day. Spurrier gets Kovacs lined up over Ace Sanders, ballgame. Tip of the cap. This was a game in which both coaches went for the win.
THEY S'POSED TO BE NFL
Everyone Hates Raymond Stadium. If you're ever on the fence about going to an Outback Bowl in the future, don't. I imagine the scoreboard situation is going to get repaired in the near future, but until then that stadium has the worst I've ever seen. They're useless. They're tiny, 40% of them are given over to ads during replays, and you can't see anything on them anyway. They're worse—much worse—than the boards Michigan just replaced. It was flabbergasting. I mean, it's an NFL stadium. I hear they're doing fairly well for themselves.
Meanwhile, the stadium itself has an incredibly shallow rise, which means if you're unfortunately positioned in what purports to be a good seat*, you spend large chunks of the game looking around beer vendors or Only Guy In The Section Standing Up Guy. The sidelines are huge; the field is not that far below seat level. The end result is a lot of very bad seats, and not much recourse when you can't figure out what happened immediately.
In addition, the area around the stadium is run-down and amenity-free. There's nothing within walking distance. It is the opposite of stadium districts in Detroit, Denver, Columbus, Minneapolis, Pasadena, etc. Unless it is geographically convenient or your favorite player(s) are entering their last games ever you probably shouldn't go. The guy who makes 800k for running the thing probably deserves it for keeping such a crappy venue high up in the pecking order.
Tampa is everything it's reputed to be, as well. Most Tampa thing: all the police cars advertise their website located at www.tampagov.net.
*[This reminded me of Wrigley, actually. A fan of the blog with access to nice tickets threw us a couple a few years back and I spent literally an entire half-inning looking into the paunch of a beer vendor since Wrigley's rise is minuscule. Vertical stadiums are the best.]
Everyone Hates Adidas. I mean, who could have known that putting light yellow numbers on a white jersey would make it impossible to tell who was who? It's almost as if these uniform stunts aren't well thought out.
I was skeptic in re: guys on message boards proclaiming that Nike was the best and that moving to Adidas was a mistake despite the fact they would give Michigan all of the money. I was wrong.
Two things have finally torn it:
- This uniformz debacle. Completely impossible to tell who was who. Didn't figure out Demens wasn't playing much, if at all, until second half, and that was because twitter was talking about it. I had no idea which DB got burned on the first touchdown until twitter told me, as well. Idiotic.
- Hockey third jerseys. You have to see these in person to fully appreciate how awful they look. It's not just the weaselferret. It's not even sort of the weaselferret. It's that they look like they came straight off the rack from the Walmart replica section.
Once this contract is up Michigan should flee. They will just take whoever offers them more money; after what Underarmour did with Northwestern this year I am rooting my ass off for those guys. Yeah, Maryland, whatever. That's on the AD. If M screws it up as much as the Terrapins we'll know what the problem is.
WE DIDN'T LISTEN
WE DIDN'T LISTEN
I'll collect game reacts later; this is tough to do in a day now that it's ballooned into a 5000 word monstrosity.
I have just spent the last six hours watching SEC football. I feel filthy. I need a shower. But you need content so here's a little bit of stuff I've learned about Michigan's Outback opponent.
The Most SEC Team Ever
South Carolina is not just an SEC team, they are the most SEC team ever, so SEC in fact that they're coached by one Steve Spurrier. They're major over-signers, massively talented, and minimally sane. A third came from a JUCO or prep school—Fork Union Military Academy is Spurrier's
rubber-stamping [EDIT: I can't support this, see comments] prep of choice though Georgia Military or Hargrave it's all the same. They're the reason you can't just say "SEC West" when describing the epicenter of NCAA rot with any kind of geographic specificity. In good-guy/bad-guy cartoon world, they're evil's comic relief henchman who starts every sentence with "Duuuhhhh, hey boss…"
Arkansas is Bebop, SC is Rocksteady.
The Most SEC Recruiting Ever:
SC has had a lot of attrition, to put it mildly. Of the 127 players to commit to Spurrier from 2008 through this season, 39 percent (50 players) are not on today's roster. Another five came back after a year of prep school. That's two dismissals, three early NFL entries, eight graduates (six JUCOs, two 2008 non-redshirts), four quits, two medicals, two unrenewed fifths, 14 transfers, and 15 non-qualifiers (one of whom made it back to FBS w/ Arizona).
Most of the transfers, as you might have expected, conveniently occurred under an over-signing scholarship crunch. Their 127 commits is just nine more than Michigan took over the same period, however M had a lot more scholarships available with massive attrition from small classes preceding the relevant years while SC's most egregious class was the 31 taken in '06. On the other hand the attrition wasn't so evenly managed as to not cause problems; as recently as 2011 their boards have had 'Never Forget'-levels of depth chart freaking out at cornerback. Their 2009 class is down to 11 from 29. With the new scholarship limits and attrition remaining very high (seven of those transfers happened this year), Spurrier has been doing it more with JUCOs lately, offering them scholarships on an availability basis. Things like grayshirting Matt Coffee because too many kids qualified seem to have been replaced with problems like "oh god we're out of linebackers!"
That said they've pulled in a lot of talent. Star chart (Rivals) of their current roster vs. Michigan's:
The five-stars are Lattimore and Clowney, and both were considered among the best overall recruits those years. Lattimore's season is over after one of those leg injuries you cannot unsee after seeing (case example: Tyrell Dortch vs. Wisconsin). Clowney is a freak.
Because he's hard not to watch I spent a good couple of drives focusing on Clowney, who of all the great DEs Lewan has gone up against is probably still the best. Clowney is really quick off the snap, as slippery as a defensive back, and so quick with his hands it is rare to see anybody get inside on him. Added this year, his swim move made every tackle he faced look ridiculous. Georgia held him like whoa, Florida optioned him off most of the game, and Arkansas mostly ran away from him or planned quick patterns. One time Florida tried to block down on him on a sweep and Clowney shot into the backfield so fast he arrived with the pitch.
SC tried to counter by doing some funny things, stunting Clowney around the formation or dropping him into coverage. At the latter he wasn't very effective; a couple of screens he should have blown up ended up going right by him. Optioning wasn't all that effective either, since Clowney often showed the agility to reroute and make the play anyway. Only teams with fast running backs made that work, and with Toussaint out this doesn't bode so well for Michigan barring a sudden emergence from Hayes or something.
You can try to put a tight end out there to double him but then this happens:
Neither is he an awesome tackler—more often he would just get to the quarterback so fast or break the pocket so badly that another guy got to clean up. Even our pair of escape artists is small solace; Michigan's best hope is that Lewan and Schofield can handle him. What worries me here is that Gardner was most effective against Northwestern and Minnesota thanks to long, leisurely days in the pocket; those won't exist unless we solve Clowney.
The Most SEC Offense Ever:
The first thing you notice while watching non-professional SEC football is the stupid. I went in expecting to blow up every stereotype about SEC speed versus Big Ten brains only to keep having those same stereotypes confirmed, especially with their offensive line.
Mattison is going to have some fun here guys. If you come at them straight up South Carolina's line can stand in the way as well as anybody; they've got quick feet, large bodies, and don't seem to be asked to do many non-simple things. As soon as things do get not-simple it's quarterback sacky hour. Stunts work, delayed blitzes work better, and I can't wait to see them try to react to Michigan's Okie package. The tackles Corey Robinson (6'8/337 lbs./RS So) and Brandon Shell (6'6/331 lbs/RS Fr) are big and young. Robinson has good footwork and is massive but I also saw him take a lot of plays off. The freshman right tackle will be really good one day; for now he's prone to lots of mistakes. The interior OL is older, smaller, and yet even more prone to mistakes—the right guard Ronald Patrick (#67) in particular seemed to miss a heck of a lot of blitzes.
The dumb very much does not extend to the coaches. Spurrier's old "Fun and Gun" offense is mostly gone, replaced with a base shotgun, spread stuff, options, zone reads, and wide receiver screens. What hasn't changed is all the cheating that Spurrier opponents have long complained about. SC has a tendency to come out in a wedge formation (I never saw them get called for it, though the tackles are clearly lining up a yard or more off the LOS) on passing downs. I also can't remember ever seeing so many pick routes and offensive holds to get their receivers open. When they get going Spurrier will speed up the tempo however they usually get set with about 17 or so seconds on the clock.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia is gone, but his hometown is Tampa and that's plenty of excuse to dig up every Stephen Garcia thing this week. Actual Gamecocks QB Conner Shaw was out (sprained foot) for the Clemson game but is expected to be back under center for the Outback bowl. The junior doesn't have the breakaway speed of Braxton Miller or Taylor Martinez, but Shaw definitely qualifies as a dual-threat by matching either for acceleration, and usually his third read is to scramble. The leaky line has made Shaw overly jittery in the pocket; he will move around a lot and get 10 yards if you break contain; if you don't he'll hold onto it too long and drive SC fans nuts. When he's got time to set and throw Shaw will put it on the money, however he's plenty liable to run around and toss something off his back foot even when he doesn't have to, and at this he's less accurate than he thinks he is.
The effective play of Dylan Thompson (more of a drop-back) against Clemson has started a bit of QB controversy, though nobody outside of South Carolina seems to think this is a thing (see: Denard vs. Gardner).
The blitzes they mostly minimized before with play action to Lattimore (no longer an option) and a dangerous QB draw it seems Shaw is allowed to call at the line:
The receivers are like our receivers—short but capable of whoa. Ace Sanders (#1) is the slot "weapon" who we'll come back to when talking about special teams. Nick Jones, an even tinier dude, is nominally the 2nd receiver. The deep threat is Damiere Byrd (#3); at 5'9 a giant among these men, Byrd is a Gallon-like player who made a ridiculous catch against Georgia. Bruce Ellington is the Dileo of the bunch. Dudes over 6 feet are extant but mostly freshmen; when bigosity is called for they go to the tight ends. The senior and better blocker is #87 Justice Cunningham (6'4/264), though Cunningham's been a receiver option plenty (22 catches for 287 yards this season). Sophomore Rory "Buster" Anderson (6'5/218/#81) caught 21 passes for 452 yards and 8 TDs in his first two seasons. There's a freshman they use sometimes here too.
The Most SEC Defense Ever
They're a base 4-3 that goes to a nickel against spread-ish teams. That nickel ends up looking a lot like a 3-3-5 because they'll split Clowney off into a 9-tech:
If you line up in a I-form on an obvious running down they will stack the line and creep up like woah—expect to want to kill Borges at least once when he runs Vincent Smith into that.
Clowney you've heard of, but he's not all they've got. The rest of the defensive front are eh—the other end is a Pat Massey-ian 6'8 except more athletic than Massey—but the DTs are active and vicious. They're big dudes with active hands who don't provide much in the way of pass rush except to shove your center back a few yards and make things even messier once Clowney begins breaking things.
The swing player is DeVonte Holloman, who plays Spur, the roving LB-safety spot that Michigan had during our 3-3-5 days—in SC's defense it's basically strong safety or nickel back depending on formation, though Holloman is liable to line up anywhere. Free safety D.J. Swearinger is a Kovacsian dude who seems to get to the ball quickly—I'm not sure why there isn't more hype for him. It's kind of hard to get a read on anyone else since Clowney forces the play so often that the linebackers are making tackles on dumpoffs more than anything.
The senior middle linebacker Reggie Bowens (#47) is good; he doesn't read plays that quickly but he's great at staying off of blocks and picking through trash to get to a ball carrier, and Bowens is big enough that when he arrives the RB's momentum immediately stops. The other guys tend to stand around a lot. Cooper just tore his ACL and SC blogs seem to agree that one or two 2013 recruits will start (if they can recruit any—that so far has been a disaster); backups are nonexistent.
At corner I got to see why Jimmy Legree lost his job when Akeem Auguste returned (Legree turned several plays into major gainers by going for a strip), but not much else. Everything just pivots around Clowney all the time.
The recipe here seems to be creativity. If you play them straight-up it's going to be just another Clowney show but Florida did a whole bunch of interesting things and ended up moving the ball enough to win by a lot. If Michigan can utilize our talent in the backfield to probe the weakside behind Clowney there's space here to put up points.
The Most SEC Special Teams Ever
Ace Sanders averages a bazillion per return, is described as "nifty" and never ever calls for a fair catch. Too bad we can't take advantage of that. Their punters seem to have little in the way of leg, which is scary if you imagine Gallon having to run up 20 yards to make a fair catch amongst a sea of coverage all the time. This would be a good time to deploy Dileo as short returner.
- Jerald Robinson has left the team.
- Craig Roh had a bit of a "sore shoulder." Me too, although mine is from pipetting too much. Probably the same thing.
- Royce Jenkins-Stone is playing middle linebacker, not SAM.
- Dennis Norfleet is playing corner, not safety.
- None of the redshirting freshmen OL have practiced at center. Right now the heir apparent to Elliott Mealer is Jack Miller, followed by Graham Glasgow.
“Before I get started talking about what we’re doing and everything, I think our thoughts and prayers go out to those in Connecticut, with that tragedy that happened. It’s unfortunate, and we just want to have them in our prayers, those families that were affected, and the senselessness of what happened.
“With that being said, we got back after today, we had a good practice. This time of year it gets a little dicey because you’re juggling some finals. There’s some guys who had finals but not very many of them that couldn’t be there, so you go through all those kinds of things, and find the times that we can. We’ll go tomorrow morning, and then we’ll go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I like how they’ve come out. I know they’ve had good weeks with lifting and running and technique work and those things, so it’s all be real positive.”
So, after shenanigans—there are always shenanigans—Michigan lands in the Gruesome Running Back Leg Injury Bowl against South Carolina. Appropriately, the game will be played in a pirate ship.
A new opponent requires knowledge. Here is the knowledge about South Carolina.
Haunting various dreams for the next month
like Will Gholston, except good at football, so not like Will Gholston
Hey look it's Jadeveon Clowney, a 6'6", 260-pound defensive end with the kind of size/speed combo that has made him so patently unfair in college from day one that the only comparison you can make is with Adrian Peterson, who doesn't even play on the same side of the ball. Clowney's coming off a 4.5 sack performance against Clemson, leads the nation with 13 of those, and has hit 21.5 TFLs. Nobody approaches him and says "lol you name clowney."
Clowney's parents should have kept changing his name to something more outlandishly mockable with every inch he grew, just to see if anyone would bite on "I have a butt on my face Clowney." No one would have.
Unsurprisingly, over a sack per game by that guy is a good head start on lots of sacks in general—South Carolina is fifth nationally with 3.3 a game. Nobody else leaps off the page but that's actually a testament to South Carolina's pass-rush depth. The next three guys on the sack list have 5, 4.5, and 3 sacks. This isn't that impressive… until you look them up and find out they're all defensive ends. Which means that from two-ish positions on the field—I bet at least one of those guys plays DT on passing downs—South Carolina has 13 and 12.5 sacks. Put another way, Michigan's entire team has 6.5 fewer sacks than South Carolina's DEs*.
So at least NFL scouts are happy with the matchup of Lewan and Schofield versus those guys.
*[Not entirely fair since Michigan faced 294 passes to South Carolina's 342, but… yeah still pretty much fair.]
Haunting various dreams last month
That would be the aforementioned gruesome leg injury to Marcus Lattimore, whose knee ligaments had a suicide pact gruesomely consummated in the Tennessee game.
The downgrade in the run game was severe and immediately apparent. Backup Kenny Miles came in to grind out 34 yards on 10 carries—2.5 YPC worse than Lattimore's efforts—against the Vols. The next week against Arkansas Miles and Mike Davis combined to average 3.3 YPC. After a breather against Wofford, the pair split carries against Clemson for 3.1 YPC.
Lattimore had not been astounding before the injury, FWIW. He had a couple of Toussaint-like lines against LSU (13 carries for 35 yards) and Florida (3(!) for 13), and only cracked 100 yards against Vandy, Kentucky, and Georgia. Issues with South Carolina's run game seem systemic.
COACHES WANT TO BE SPIES
@ Right: Thompson is apparently evangelical.
This will sound familiar: South Carolina announced that backup quarterback Dylan Thompson would start against Clemson one hour before the game last weekend, rendering headlines like…
Connor Shaw Is the Key to the South Carolina-Clemson Game
…teeth-gnashingly frustrating for blog folk. Shaw had been fighting foot/ankle injuries that sapped his mobility for much of the year and should reclaim the starting job with a month to heal up.
Thompson did put up 310 yards passing, 3 TDs, and an interception while also picking up 73 yards on the ground (of which he gave back 35 on sacks), so if Connor Shaw struggles early you know the OBC is just itching to swap quarterbacks.
Shaw has not given much indication that he will as long as he's healthy. Michigan's defense is good but it's not at the level of LSU and Florida, and those are about the only defenses to give South Carolina much trouble this year. Oh, and Vandy. Right.
I learned it from YOU, dad
If you have not watched Carolina play this year it may surprise you to know that the Gamecocks have moved to what is pretty much a full-on spread offense with QB running and whatnot. Shaw and Thompson have 118 non-sack rushing attempts between them, many of them on old-timey zone read pulls when defenses sell out on Lattimore or Guy Who Isn't Lattimore.
No, this has not prevented them from finishing 12th in total defense, 15th in rushing D, and 13th in scoring defense. Yes, it is a crazy old world when Steve Spurrier is piloting a spread offense and winning with defense.
Further upping the sense Michigan is playing a weird alternate universe version of itself: Ace Sanders is a Gamecock Jeremy Gallon, except way better on punt returns. He's a slot dude, like all South Carolina receivers, and is a frequent target on screens. About which more later.
South Carolina practices are races to the quarterback
So I'm pretty sure the Gamecock offensive line is a shambles. There's the Lattimore numbers, which are depressing against superior defenses and grindingly okay against the Vandys of the world, where he'd pick up like 4.8 YPC because he gets one or three after contact every time. Without him the Gamecocks are a team that rushes for 4.1 YPC against Wofford.
Now add in the OL yielding 2.9 sacks a game on a relatively modest 329 attempts and this is not a good offensive line. It is a very bad offensive line, which helps explain why…
The Gamecock passing game is a betrayal of everything Steve Spurrier has ever believed in
Gamecock WRs: shorter than cornerbacks. Which cornerbacks? All cornerbacks.
Here's every attempt from the USCe-Missouri game:
Purdue. Before Lattimore's injury he was Carolina's leading receiver with 26 catches for 173 yards; Miles has 16 more catches. The top three receivers are all 5'9". That clip reel has about three passes past ten yards and given the YAC machines these guys are that is a season-long trend. The leading receiver, Bruce Ellington, is averaging about 15 yards a catch.
The two tight ends are frequently featured. Justice Cunningham is the large guy you see catching a half-dozen dumpoffs in the clip reel above; South Carolina will also go to Rory Anderson in the redzone—five of his 13 catches are touchdowns.
It works well enough, though: Spurrier's dink and dunk is 21st in passer efficiency. They spread the ball around, get lots of yards after the catch, and have kept the interceptions that plagued Stephen Garcia down.
Men who might tackle Denard Robinson
If Michigan can get to the second level, the guy most likely to be making the stop is fifth-year senior Shaq Wilson, who's a 5'11, 226-pound WLB sort who leads South Carolina in tackles. #2 is safety DJ Swearinger, which may or may not betray a tendency to get blocked on a second level that the defensive line covers up frequently.
This is probably not thecase. South Carolina is 15th nationally despite facing an absolute ton of rushing attempts. On a YPC basis they are better than OSU by 0.4 yards and better than MSU by 0.2 yards. They are essentially equivalent to Notre Dame, who Michigan did actually run on some—with Denard Robinson playing QB.
The over-under on Thomas Rawls YPC is set at one.
Well what about the air?
More plausible. Michigan's pass efficiency D slots in just behind South Carolina and I think we know Michigan can be had. The Bray went nuts against them with 368 yards on 43 attempts, 4 TDs, and one INT. On the other hand, Aaron Murray had 109 yards on 31 attempts and an INT, Tajh Boyd 183 on 24 attempts and a 1-2 TD-INT ratio.
As someone who saw the Bray live in a game where Jarvis Jones was made to not exist, I think that game does indicate that if you can protect your quarterback the secondary will yield open guys and chunks of yards. Every time you drop back, though, you're playing with fire, as that clip above demonstrates. Sooner or later I have a butt on my face is going to get you.
If Michigan can move the ball against this defense it's going to be great news for Mike Schofield as Michigan's left tackle next year, because Lewan will take the money and run after sending his stock skyward. Also everyone will all be like WHERE WAS THAT AGAINST OHIO STATE because I tell you what running up the middle on third and short is going to have the same result.
Off the cuff first impression
10-6 South Carolina.