Hokepoints Previews South Carolina

Submitted by Seth on December 27th, 2012 at 2:59 PM

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.

Source material: Rivals scholarship breakdown which I've turned into a Googledoc; video of SC vs. Georgia; DGDestroys's every snap videos for Arkansas, LSU, and Florida; and this guy in the comments.

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:

South Carolina Michigan
Class 5* 4* 3* 2* Total Class 5* 4* 3* 2* Total
2008   1 5   6 2008   5 1 1 7
2009   3 7 1 11 2009 1 8 4 1 14
2010 1 4 6 4 15 2010   4 8   12
2011 1 5 18   23 2011   5 8 1 14
2012   7 13 2 22 2012 2 10 13   25
Total 2 20 48 7 78 Total 3 32 34 3 72

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.

Jadeveon ClowneyThe 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.

ConnerShawThe 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.


Ali G Bomaye

December 27th, 2012 at 3:25 PM ^

I'm kind of hoping it does get us burned in a reasonably high-profile game (in a way that doesn't lead to us losing, of course) so that we can stop using it.  I think that's the only way Hoke would reconsider its use.  And until we stop using it, we're basically giving away 10 yards on every punt.


December 28th, 2012 at 8:12 AM ^

I think when you reach the point that you're hoping something bad happens to Michigan so that you can be right, you're over thinking things and probably need to step back a bit. I have no idea if this other formation is better but I am quite sure that you have taken this point too far.

If there has been a problem with Michigans punting unit, the issue is probably the punter(s.) You may note that the starting punter, who is suspended, was notoriously inconsistent and the back-up punter is the back-up punter.

Zoltan Mesko was a great punter. His success had little to do with formation.

Just last night, I watched both teams have punts blocked out of the spread formation in the Military Bowl. I do not recall Hoke having a punt blocked at Michigan yet.

snarling wolverine

December 27th, 2012 at 6:21 PM ^

Is there evidence that the punt formations with three blockers in the backfield actually reduce blocked punts?  I remember us using one in the 2003 Iowa game with disastrous results.

I don't think we've had a punt blocked in Hoke's two years.  We've had some issues with our punters outkicking the coverage, but I don't see the formation as a problem.


December 27th, 2012 at 6:43 PM ^

Yeah there's strong evidence (though I can't remember where we got it now) that the spread punt formation reduces blocks to near zero while also increasing average net distance. AND it has more success as a fake formation.

In 2003 Michigan didn't use the spread punt, unless we did that too; it was the "rugby" punt we were trying I'm pretty sure which was so devastingly underpracticed. That was a different thing entirely. That thing is where rolled the punter and the blocking to one side of the formation, allowing him to punt closer to the LOS and making it easier to pooch it out of bounds or focus the coverage. It also was supposed to be better for fakes. But bad execution and telegraphing the playcall made it doom.

The Spread Punt is what we used during the RR years, when Zoltan was setting Michigan records for net punting yards.

snarling wolverine

December 27th, 2012 at 7:10 PM ^

You're right - we used the rugby punt there (though it was out of a spread formation).  

But back to the original question, I really haven't noticed punt protection being a problem for us.  We're getting the punts off fine; if there's a problem it's more that we're kicking them right to the returner (and without enough hang time).


snarling wolverine

December 28th, 2012 at 12:38 AM ^

Yes, but I don't see how our punt formation is the key factor there.  Are we really more likely to get downfield and make the tackle if we have seven men on the line of scrimmage (as is the case in a spread punt formation) instead of 10?

Our problem, as I see it, lies with our punting itself.  We kick a lot of line drives directly at the returner.  We need to improve either our directional punting or our hang time.  Mesko was better in both aspects than Hagerup has been.



Monocle Smile

December 28th, 2012 at 8:46 AM ^

It's not just with Hagerup. When Wile's punted in longer situations (as he's done quite often), we have the same problem. And YES, the spread punt formation allows better coverage because you send more than just the two gunners and some of them get free releases. Have you watched Michigan ever? We basically go max pro every time; we don't have ten men on the line of scrimmage. We send two guys who usually get doubled and pray.

snarling wolverine

December 28th, 2012 at 3:50 PM ^

I don't know.  I don't think either Hagerup or Wile is all that great of a punter and to compare them to Mesko (who was All-America caliber) and attribute it to the punt formation is very misleading.  When you blast a line-drive punt, it's pretty tough for your gunners to get there no matter how they're lined up.



December 28th, 2012 at 4:07 PM ^

FWIW, Buckeye fans aren't all big fans of their spread punt formation:


Is the grass always greener on the other side?  Four blocked punts in one season is brutal.  That's a huge price to pay for possibly gaining an edge when you get the punt off.   We haven't had a punt blocked in either of Hoke's two seasons, so maybe we're making this into a bigger problem than it is.





December 27th, 2012 at 3:28 PM ^

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.  

They've got quite a ways to go before they catch up to Michigan's 2010 recruiting class.

That would be an interesting exercise - we know the external reasons, but I wonder who has attrited (ha) more from 2008 to now in this bowl game.


December 27th, 2012 at 3:31 PM ^

I just did that for this post. Give me a moment and I'll put it all up on a google doc for you.


Here ya go: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AlZp0ugnJIGddGxxc0JzVHVJMG…


Michigan has 56.8% of players left from the 2008-12 classes to SC's 60.9%. If you count those who played out their eligibility, unrenewed 5ths and early NFL entries as non-attrition then Michigan retention rate over those classes is  67.0% to South Carolina's 71.1%

Of course we had two coaching transitions during that period to their none.


December 27th, 2012 at 3:46 PM ^

there is no way Clowney is more SEC than one Cam Newton.

Interesting subject archtypes...Gimme Bozworth for Oklahoma, Charles White for SC, Mo Clarett for OSU, Remington for Neb, Vegas Ferguson (or Rudy) for ND, Andre Rison for Sparty...I'm done now....Maybe Dierdorf for us.


December 27th, 2012 at 3:50 PM ^

Fork Union and Hargrave are hardly "rubber stamping" prep schools. They are *outstanding* prep schools. They are enormously expensive (they offer only partial athletic scholarships), are extremely strict, out in the middle of absolute nowhere in western Virginia, do a phenomenal job of instilling discipline (into kids that basically have none), and getting kids ready for college. They hire outstanding teachers (the pay is good and you're going to have ZERO troubles from your students) and the kids work their nuts off. 

I've covered the school any number of times and it's always a pleasure. When the kids arrive, the first thing they do is send everything they brought with them back with their folks. "You aren't going to need this."

If the sun is up, the kids are either working with their drill sergeants, in class, or studying with tutors. 

Calling it a "rubber stamp" prep school is insulting to the folks who put in SERIOUS time to get ready for college.


December 27th, 2012 at 3:57 PM ^

A few years ago I had an article saved in my links that followed specifically Spurrier's football players who went to Fork Union to get eligible, however the link died and I then deleted it and don't even remember who wrote or published it anymore. So since I can't defend what I said, I put a strike through that part.


December 27th, 2012 at 4:21 PM ^

At Grantland they put an endnote to explain contextual strikethroughs and that's a good system. We've been doing it thus:

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.



December 27th, 2012 at 5:19 PM ^

strikethrough preserves for posterity the original text, plus the change, so everyone can see the evolution of the post and the author's response to a comment/criticism/error.  It's the responsible, mature way of handling corrections. 

The fact that Ty Duffy or other Deadspin/TBL-type drivel pushers use it otherwise shouldn't dictate how it ought to be used by an ethical writer

Hardware Sushi

December 27th, 2012 at 10:03 PM ^

I'm on the shuttle/metro from Dulles but I don't really agree with this statement for all attendees of these academies, specifically high-level D1 recruits.

I will post a rebuttal when I get home and unpacked etc, but I think a key distinction is that these military academies are not puuuurely rubber stamping kids into SEC programs but they are also not producing West Point and Annapolis grads out of guys that didn't qualify for SC out of high school.

There's a reason they get funneled to specific academies, especially with certain coaches (Spurrier, Saban, etc.) running the program and that seems to be the point Seth was making. If it were my post, I'd remove the strikethru and stand by the original text.


December 28th, 2012 at 11:43 AM ^

curious you mention West Point and Annapolis, but not the quality military academy that took Michigan to task earlier this year.  What gives?

Signed,  GW2008, 1991 USAFA graduate and USAF, Retired. 

(kidding around, by the way...before the negbang ensues)


December 28th, 2012 at 12:42 PM ^

They may not be turning academic tire fires into West Point types, but they do provide a pretty good service to those kids who need it and are willing to put in the effort.  Namely, getting them eligible to get a college scholarship that they wouldn't otherwise have gotten.  Yes, there's a reason they get "funneled" to certain academies - it's because military prep schools aren't a dime a dozen, and regular prep schools don't offer a postgrad year.  I know of four such schools in the state of Virginia, two of which are mentioned here, so it's not like these coaches are finding the one needle in the haystack that will serve their needs and cramming as many players as they can there.

If you like, I can offer proof that 1) there are players that drop or fail out of these schools before they can get themselves eligible and 2) there are players that make it through and get immense benefits from it.  There exists NO guarantee whatsoever that you can recruit a player and see him automatically make it through a year at FUMA or wherever else, "rubber-stamped" and ready to go.  I think Seth was right to strike-through the original post.


December 28th, 2012 at 1:03 PM ^

in the country (or appropriate collection of districts) have a FU/Hargreaves-style institution available for kids who need more direction and discipline than are going to be found in a typical public school. It would be enormously expensive, but in the long run it would save money by reducing the percentage of kids who will end up in prison for lack of suitable adult influences.


December 28th, 2012 at 12:20 PM ^

I spent ten days in the summer at Fork Union Military Academy in the Bravo Company barrack. I have no sense of the teachers as they weren't there but it is absolutely in nowhere and the athletic facilities, especially the drinking fountains, were very subpar. Looked like not much had been updated since the '70s.

Chris Perry went there as did Mark Philmore (NU class '06).


December 28th, 2012 at 6:24 PM ^

There was a really good article about Denard on ESPN at http://espn.go.com/colleges/michigan/football/story/_/id/8778229/denard…

I was thinking about simple math and hope Borges realized it too.  Michigan needs a running back.  Michigan is looking for a way to get Denard on the field.  Denard seems to be the only one who has had success running the ball this year (though mostly as a quarterback).  

I know the SC defense needs to be taken into consideration, but if there are not some misdirections and other plays like we saw in the Iowa game I am going to quietly fume until September.  

He needs just under 90 yards to be the all time leading rusher as a quarterback.  I hope he can do that because I think he deserves it.  

(And also becuase I will be wearing my brand new #16 jersey my wife got me for Christmas.)

Zone Left

December 27th, 2012 at 8:48 PM ^

The one thing you failed to mention that really strikes me about Clowney is his motor. I remember him running guys down from behind in an all-star game. He's a lot more than just a talent.


December 27th, 2012 at 9:29 PM ^

Out of all respect to you, I'm gonna make some corrections. Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton played opposite sides, victor was a starter all year, jimmy did not lose it to him, Akeem Auguste's return is what sat Jimmy. As far as the tight ends go, buster is the most natural pass catcher at tight end, in the past two seasons he might have more to receptions than any of the receivers currently on the team and Justice Cunningham is by far the best blocking tight end on the team. And also saying Florida moved the ball well enough to put up points is sort of flawed considering they had 21 points off of 28 yards in the first half. Turnovers on the one and inside the 20 will do that. Aside from that it was a pretty good read...

Might I add a player to watch or two, Chaz Sutton and Jerell Adams.


December 28th, 2012 at 7:07 AM ^

Thanks for the help. It's hard going in and learning a team when I'd only watched pieces of their games all year. I was using various blogs and boards to figure out what happened with these guys...and some of the comments made during the games, which as we know can be total crap.

I'll make some edits.

I didn't see Chaz Sutton do anything of note in the three games I watched. In fact the only time I remember noting him for anything was once he wasn't flowing down the line and let LSU get a big gain, and another time LSU bashed him off the line so hard on a 3rd and short he went flying.


December 28th, 2012 at 12:11 PM ^

I forgot how this game came about. Did Michigan just agree to play SC on the road or was this part of a away and home series where are home game got cancelled. I was student at Michigan at the time and most of the media pundits thought SC would beat us. May be it was from our .500 '84 season. The defense really came back with a avenges this season!


December 28th, 2012 at 12:08 PM ^

Clowney is phenomal.  I have never seen a defensive end blow by offensive tackles as quickly and as easily as he does.  No offense to Taylor Lewan, but he wont be able to block him one on one.  I hope the coaches realize this and have game planned accordingly.

Sac Fly

December 28th, 2012 at 6:09 PM ^

It sounds way too simple to work, but I would chip Clowney on almost every passing play. It will slow him down just enough, and you would have to think eventually he will wear down.


December 29th, 2012 at 12:18 PM ^

It seems to me that losing Floyd and Hagerup will be impactful.  I havent noticed any mention of it here and I am curious if SC's receivers are not necessitating Floyds presense?  Do people think Floyd wasnt that good anyways?  
With this Ace returner, seems Hagerups suspension could be huge too?