Don't listen to anyone in the Netherlands who says otherwise: "Dennis Bergkamp neemt de bal aan" is Dutch for "Denard Robinson picks up a block!"
Between the WMU run and this week's bitterly unsatisfying conclusion we coined and created new uses for words like "Shoelace", and "Dilithium", and "ERMAGHERD", and "Eating" and "Robinson to Roundtree." Every sharp cut and rocket acceleration by his gangly, graceful legs created another moment pregnant with so much meaning you could utter gibberish about it in another language and the guy next to you would understand exactly what you're trying to say.
Think back on the Michigan you knew the moment before the camera first panned to 'Lace's shoes. Think how utterly un-Michigan it all looked: a Floridian freshman who couldn't throw the ball stepping into a role occupied by artillery pieces and disciplined option men since as far back as any reader of this site can remember, dropping the snap, wandering over toward the sideline, then hyperdriving through a field full of men bigger than he is. It used to be other teams' little jet mites doing that to our colossuses.* It was too astounding to be repeatable. How are we to crush souls if every few plays this sprite is jetting off to the end zone, then smiling at everybody? Doesn't he realize scoring touchdowns is just giving the other team more time of possession?
Here at the end we're all not sure what it is we just saw. The thing that turned some practice observers in 2010 into raving lunatics on these boards never stopped being a source of some sort of controversy, from spreadvocates who'd rather Borges run an offense he doesn't know than see him waste such a talent, to insufferable puritans who called him a running back.
To those last to whom circumstances and mankind's ill-planned brachial nervous system ultimately gave them their wish, I give you 100-ish yards on 23 carries, and a ho, and a hum, and a little secret…gonna have to lean closer…a bit closer…I need to whisper…DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! AAAAAAAHHHHH!
*If I'd said "it used to be other teams' Vins doing that to our army of Koloss" would anyone have gotten the reference?
CHRISTMAS IS STILL RELEVANT. Enough so at least that there remains much to be gained in mistersuits's X-mas Eve basketball roundup, which does things like compare this team to last's, and compare this team to the Fab Five, and publishes the schedule reorganized by expected KenPom difficulty, and lots of analysis and good formatting and stuff. I was out on holiday (and watching SEC football) and missed the chance to bump it—even now it's front page material by a good margin, just a little bit outdated. The diary describes an SEC-like gauntlet of Top 15-ish teams that Michigan and Indiana will both have to navigate.
FILE UNDER NO FRIKKIN WAY: TSS has found an NCAA rushing stat that Michigan leads the country in. Seriously. He calls the statistic "open field rushing yards" and it tracks how many yards you got on top of every rush of 10 positive or more yards. Indeed when Michigan managed to get the ballcarrier into the secondary this year, more often than not he'd be going full DENNIS BERGKAMP! Or losing a shoe. Minnesota was second-to-last.
Actually that stat is just a byproduct of his real effort, which removes the Bergkamping after 5 and 10 yards and gives credit for the first bits back to the O-lines. Relevant results cropped:
Note Michigan's the huge outlier in "AOFY" which is "adjusted open field yards" to the OP, yet still hanging at the bottom of the conference with "AALY" which is basically how many yards per play the offensive line might take credit for. Of course they're also hindered by RBs missing cuts or being too small to carry momentum through a linebacker. Yeoman's work here, with scatterplots and a lot more than the above. Diary of the Week(s). Read it.
[The Jump: lots more diaries, and stuff, and stuff, and by now you should realize I always leave something nice for my clickers-through.]
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.
The Most SEC Player Ever:
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.
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.”
'Tis the Season. So I meant to take a picture of this but you guys filled filled a poor woman's entire office (as in the computer is on top of an Amazon box) with gift donations for Adopt a Shelter, which is tomorrow. I still need some volunteers if you're free in the morning and wanna help throw a Christmas party for homeless kids.
I also inadvertently opened the flood gates for good causes going on this holiday season.
Merit: David Merritt stopped by to plug his new venture that's kinda like those feel-good shoes everybody has nowadays, where they make fashionable clothing and 20% of every purchase goes toward a scholarship via the Jalen Rose thing.
Big House Big Heart: Brandon responded in AA.com about the Big House Big Heart Champions for Charity run he nixed, explaining he'd rather the university run it than a for-profit organization. People in this thread say the profit is small but I don't know where those #s are coming from; the greatest evidence that Brandon is just being a grinch is the event's director is all like "if they want it they can have it and we'll do all the work anyway; it's for charity!"
People for Hoops Information Against Starving Dylans: UMHoops did their annual drive to keep them viable and made their it. I miss the old hardwood look but love everything else they've done with that place. Now about that photo above…
Bacari calls them his motivating shoulders. There's one floppy-haired coach's head that's still unused next to (director of basketball operations) Travis Conlan on the far right and FabFiver is taking suggestions; I vote S&C coach Jon Sanderson.
Yeeeeah. This man is going to kill me. Just like our dominating Big Ten team is going to murderate a puny SEC team, says ClearEyesFullHart in his Arkansas preview. BIG TEN! That's it for the cagers in the diaries, now back to the world where our conference has five 'N's.
[After the Jump, the BIG TENNNN! that was, Meeting South Carolina, and the Best of the Board]
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.
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.