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.