Fee Fi Foe Film: South Carolina Defense Comment Count

Ace December 28th, 2017 at 4:19 PM

All-SEC linebacker Skai Moore covers a lot of ground.

South Carolina's schedule made it difficult to pick a game to scout. Over the last two months, they've faced two playoff teams (Georgia and Clemson), four SEC squads ranked worse than 80th in S&P+, and Wofford.

I chose Clemson given the comparably fierce defense to Michigan. The offenses are, uh, different. As such, I expect SC to take a slightly different approach than what I saw in this game, but thankfully Will Muschamp's schemes are well-known at this point. In this game, Clemson picked apart his pet coverage in a way Michigan should be able to reclicate. The Tigers jumped out to a 34-0 lead before setting it on cruise control for most of the second half.

Personnel: Seth's diagram will go up tomorrow along with the offense post, as he's currently at a wedding. South Carolina doesn't have any recent major injuries to report on defense; they lost talented SLB Bryson Allen-Williams early in the year.

Base Set? Multiple. Muschamp runs a DJ Durkin-like 4-3 (he's even used the same BUCK terminology for the weakside end) that often morphs into a three-man front, including quite often a true 3-4 look with a zero-tech nose.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Man or zone coverage? South Carolina almost exclusively ran a funky hybrid cover six (quarter-quarter-half) with one cornerback in man coverage and the other playing in the parking lot. More detail on that coverage scheme at College & Magnolia, where I lifted this graphic:

Against Clemson, SC played this very soft. Both corners, including the man-coverage corner, tended to bail out on the snap—they don't often play press. Here's how it usually looked against Clemson; the corner to the bottom of the screen is giving a massive cushion, while you can see the corner at the top is already going into his backpedal a split-second after the snap:

More on this later, but Clemson abused the quarters half of the field.

Pressure: GERG or Greg? Very GERG, at least when facing a mobile quarterback. Carolina rushed three about as often as they brought extra pressure. Given the meager 2.2% havoc rate by their linebackers this year, that seems to be the norm.

Dangerman: Weakside linebacker Skai Moore earned first-team All-SEC honors from the coaches and looked the part against Clemson. Moore was constantly around the football, making 12 solo tackles and an impressive TFL on a third-and-short:

#10, linebacker above the far hashmarks

Moore is listed at only 6'2, 218 pounds. He compensates for that lack of size with impressive instincts and sideline-to-sideline speed, and he plays on the edge—sometimes too much so, as he picked up a late hit personal foul and nearly had a second in this game. He also looked like SC's best coverage linebacker; Clemson mostly avoided him.

The other player to stick out was BUCK (hybrid DE/OLB) DJ Wonnum, who batted down a couple passes and, on a day that SC could generate little pressure, was the player most often threatening the backfield. He finished second to Moore in run stops (12) and first on the team in sacks (six) this season. While mostly a pass-rusher, Wonnum is athletic enough to drop into coverage and surprisingly quick in pursuit for a 250-pounder.


We'll start with the caveats: Clemson's offensive line is significantly better than Michigan's, and Clemson's quarterback is more mobile than Brandon Peters. The Tigers were able to neutralize the Gamecock front all day; Kelly Bryant took only one sack on 35 dropbacks, and Clemson had several gashing runs before their numbers came down from going into kill-the-clock mode.

Still, in the time the game was remotely competitive, this looked like a defensive front Michigan could handle. Wonnum isn't an overwhelming pass-rusher. The best pass-rush move I saw from them was a quick inside swim from DT Taylor Stallworth, who doesn't have a sack this season, that caused a hurried incompletion. The strongside end duo of Keir Thomas and Dante Sawyer combined for only five sacks this year.

The front four did a solid job of holding their ground given Clemson's excellent run-blocking. They're a big group with Stallworth at 305 pounds and the nose tackles, Javon Kinlaw and Ulric Jones, both checking in well north of 300. Clemson still had success running between the tackles, however, for a couple reasons. First, there were a number of one-guy-blows-it plays when an SC lineman would try to shoot a gap and get sealed off. Second, the non-Moore linebackers didn't make many plays and frequently got caught up in the wash.

TJ Brunson, the middle linebacker, looked like the linebacker most often unable to get to the ballcarrier. There were a number of plays that Moore had to pursue from behind and hold down to keep from breaking into the secondary.

Meanwhile, Clemson constantly picked on the quarter-quarter-half coverage; Bryant averaged 8.0 yards per attempt even though a ton of his throws went underneath. Quick hitches and out routes were easy money against the cornerback playing a deep quarter:

Clemson also attacked the soft coverage with the screen game, something that Michigan should be able to do as well. You don't see a lot of RB flare screens to the short side but this one works because the corner is, as usual, bailing out:

Compounding SC's issues was poor tackling in the secondary. You can see some of it above. The first play from scrimmage of the second half was far worse:

The flag was for a facemask on the corner making the initial tackle attempt.

The safeties took some bad angles in this game; Clemson didn't attack them enough for me to make either a sore spot, but they looked beatable. Other than going at the soft corner in C6, Clemson found success through the air against whomever was in the slot. When SC stayed in their base package even when Clemson went four-wide, they got hit with a big play on a post route when Moore got matched up against five-star freshman wideout Tee Higgins. When they went to nickel, Higgins beat freshman nickel Jamyest Williams clean off the line for a 40-yard play to set up a TD.

Even beyond the exploited scheme, the corners didn't look good. JaMarcus King missed a couple tackles badly on the edge; Rashad Fenton showed why SC doesn't play much press man when he essentially hugged a receiver all the way downfield, picking up a blindingly obvious DPI:

This continued for 15 more yards.

If Michigan can protect Brandon Peters—Clemson's right tackle situation is, uh, better—the Wolverines should be able to move the ball well. Other than Moore, nobody really jumped off the screen as a star, and Moore isn't ideally suited to face a manball outfit. While Muschamp has had a month to vary his approach, he's a known commodity, and Harbaugh should be able to scheme up some plays to take advantage of the soft coverage. This sets up as the type of game in which space players like Chris Evans and Donovan Peoples-Jones have big days.



December 28th, 2017 at 4:48 PM ^

Moore is a PROBLEM. He would be our best LB at all three spots and VIPER. Moore is tied for schools career record for INTs with 14. He is closer to 225 as I saw him step on a scale at 221 mid-season. 

Having covered the SEC since 2014 there are two plays (games) from Skai that really stand out to me. 

The first is against UNC in the season opener in 2015. Moore had two INTs in zone coverage in the endzone. On both he showed the ability to open his hips both ways before making the leaping catch. The second won the game. 

The second game was  2017 against Vanderbilt. 1st and 10, 14:51 in the 2nd QTR. There was a defensive flag on the play so it was called. SC played Cover 1 man under and Moore played deep saftey on the play. He ends up intercepting a seem through and returns it around 60-yards. Moore started the play 18-yards deep. 

This is a guy we should avoid and NEVER attempt to throw over his head. 

Consider him Derrick Brooks. 


December 28th, 2017 at 5:04 PM ^

why you don't pick a different game for offense and defense.  Seems like the FFFF Offense should be Clemson and FFFF defense...maybe uh, UGA is probably the closest stylistic comparison, UF or UK the closest in quality?


December 28th, 2017 at 5:06 PM ^

Not only is Clemson's offense a good bit different then UMs, both FEI and S&P rank Clemson's offense considerably higher then UMs.  Trying to figure out how UM's offense is going to do against South Carolina's defense based upon what Clemson's offense did doesn't seem very close to an apples to apples comparison.


December 29th, 2017 at 1:29 AM ^

Could have probably used South Carolina's game versus Arkansas for offense.  They are about 30 spots better than Michigan on offense and are much closer in style.  Arkansas has a terrible defense, so no bother in checking that out, but I'm going to go watch some USC-Arkansas highlights to get a bit more realistic observation.

Arb lover

December 28th, 2017 at 5:58 PM ^

Hopefully that month plus to get healthy for key players and gain experience for the OL really helps drop the Florida comparison.

Earnestly awaiting this potential DPJ, Evans and Higdon breakout game to build momentum for next year and maybe usher in a few last recruits before signing day.

CRISPed in the DIAG

December 28th, 2017 at 7:33 PM ^

SC won't play a "cover six" but they don't mix in much aggression either. Big plays downfield won't fall in our lap, but it sounds like Peters should remain upright long enough to distribute the ball. We might also try more zone than power on the OL if their DL is susceptible to bad slants and gaps. Especially if Funk is actually installing something and not interviewing down there at Free Shoes U.


December 29th, 2017 at 12:07 AM ^

A lot of people are projecting what they think will be Peter's improvement over next year's spring and fall practices . . . onto this year's bowl game after only 4 weeks.

Not so fast.

He's not there yet.  He'll be better, but he'll still have training wheels on in the bowl game.  He'll still have some struggles.

If we win it will be because we can run the ball and Peters can back off the D just enough to allow that to happen.




December 28th, 2017 at 11:23 PM ^

I'm a huge Michigan fan (growing up there), however I have spent over 20 years living in SC and coaching HS football there and it is excellent. I know many of the players on SC and I can tell you that it will be a better game than most think. Michigan SHOULD win by 14 or more BUT Michigan's playcalling sequence sucks and has cost them dearly this year. Drevno, Fry, and Pep is "havng too many cooks in the kitchen" and has killed the offense along with the QB injuries. The SC defense will be very fast upfront (problem for Michigan's slow and often confused OL) BUT if Michigan will mix Higdon and Evans together in the run game it should wear SC down. On offense, SC is not Spurrier's team BUT their QB Bentley can run which has ALWAYS given Michigan trouble- A running QB. If Michigan uses their TE's on shorter crossing routes, mixes in the run game and then occassionally stretch the field the People-Jones or Crawford they should handily win. On the other hand, if they turn the ball over and call a game like they did against Michigan State then the Cocks will beat them again. 


December 28th, 2017 at 11:39 PM ^

I’m unable to create my own forum topic due to points, but Ace can you comment on any changes in Greg Frey’s status on this staff moving forward? Earlier today Josh Newberg wrote an article on FSU’s page stating that he fully expects Frey to accept the open OL coaching position there upon the conclusion of our bowl game. I’ve not read about that anywhere else though and think that could be huge hit to our team in the very near future as most of the tackles recruited seem to be his type tackle projects that he can mold...



December 29th, 2017 at 3:21 AM ^

Actually, I should take that back and say based on how many posters have caveats such as "if he's healthy, if he has picked up the info he should have, if he's caught on as quickly as should be expeted, et. al., all we have are clues, nothing solid. 

I expect nothing more than the first quarter of the WI game for four quarters which should net us plenty to win(that won't be a great amount of pts) but 10-14  per half and the defense, already great will fuck up SC some more because that's what Brown does, especially with his work on the shit he believes they'll try to attack. He loves to give the O about 7 to 14 pts with surprise picks because as a former HC, he is aware of how geeked the O becoes when that happens and it sets the tone for the D for the entire ball game. And if they can't get it into the end zone, he'll try to shorten the field greatly to give us a couple scores that way.

Just hope Jim either takes the reins offensively or instructs 'llhe wants their ideas NLT 2 days in advance and by game time, the play calling will be one man's job only.  Too many people thinking an easy UM victory so I'll call for a two TD margin. Hard fourth but in command all day type game.


December 29th, 2017 at 9:26 AM ^

It is somewhat problematic that a rs freshman peters seems to be treated with more kid gloves by our coaching staff than true freshman starters at other schools, i.e. josh jackson at vtech or even jake fromm at georgia. Either our coaches are moving too slowly or Peters is slow at picking things up.


December 29th, 2017 at 10:03 AM ^

KJ Costello had more freedom at Stanford as true freshman under former Harbaugh OC David Shaw. OKorn being over Peters is clear enough proof that despite the arm talent the coaches aren't comfortable with Peters running the offense, thats a problem for a guy 2 years into the program. That's less time than Speight had in the system when he started last year and had the entire playbook open. And if it isn't Peters and its the system, thats a problem for the system.


December 29th, 2017 at 12:29 PM ^

and spread concepts. The players and coaches just don't seem to fit that scheme and being too multiple has been difficult for the entire team to execute, especially the OL. I am hoping we deliver a heavy dose of power, counters, play-action-pass to TE/seams and DPJ/deep. Plus, more WC out of the gun to pick apart that zone and get Evans in space.


December 30th, 2017 at 12:02 AM ^

Above info that the SC front hasn’t sacked anyone since 2013...I feel we’re destined to finish the 2nd quarter giving up 6 sacks to their front four. It’s just the PTSD from RR and Hoke years talking