Preview: Outback Bowl Comment Count

Brian December 31st, 2012 at 1:05 PM


WHAT Michigan vs South Carolina
WHERE Everybody Loves Raymond Stadium
Tampa Bay, FL
WHEN 1:00 PM Eastern
January 1st, 2013
THE LINE South Carolina –5.5
WEATHER partly cloudy, mid-70s, minimal chance of rain

Again this preview assumes that Denard Robinson is basically a wildcat guy when he lines up at quarterback now. Hoke just reiterated that Gardner will start and Robinson will play "some quarterback," and by "some quarterback" he means "wildcat guy."

Run Offense vs South Carolina


happy thoughts

This was two things against Ohio State: Denard Robinson and disaster. Stripped of the one back with any credentials to his name by a gruesome injury to Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan all but abandoned any thought of running the ball with the men misnomered "running backs" in the first half, and then proved the wisdom of that decision—if not the wisdom of their second-half playcalling—by getting stuffed almost literally every time they touched the ball after halftime.

The results were grim. Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls had ten carries between them for a total of 14  yards. Rawls gained a total of two yards on five carries while turning in this career lowlight:

That is likely the point at which we remember Rawls hype deflating entirely as he's relegated to Kevin Grady duty for the rest of his career.

It's not like Rawls is alone in that department. Toussaint followed up a breakout 2011 (1041 yards on 187) by dropping almost two yards from his per-attempt average, going from 5.6 a pop to 3.9. Vincent Smith managed 2.8; Rawls is actually at the top of the heap with 4.2 thanks to a couple of garbage time runs against Purdue and Illinois. When Rawls was forced into the lineup in earnest this November, the results were ugly: 32 carries, 57 yards, less than two yards an attempt. I'd be more receptive to the argument that Rawls saw a lot of short yardage carries that artificially depressed his YPC if he wasn't a major reason he saw so many of those carries by failing to get any YAC on the goal line.

Anyway. The failure of the Michigan running game is comprehensive. The interior line can't block, the tight ends are too young, the tailbacks miserable. Except…

In this context Denard Robinson's season is nothing short of miraculous. His historic season has been obscured by injury and interceptions, but here it is: 1166 yards on 154 carries, an average of 7.6 per despite missing games against Minnesota and Northwestern. That will be a record dating back to at least 1948 (100 carry minimum) if he keeps it above Ty Wheatley's 7.3.

Meanwhile no other player on the roster can grind out half of that outside of garbage time. It is time to shake our fists at the fickle whims of injury and Rich Rodriguez's offensive line recruiting, with a bonus shake at the motley collection of tailbacks on the roster.

keep shaking

ok one more

Ok. Now, the opponent.

South Carolina's got shiny numbers that are a bit distorted by their rampant sackage. They're 16th nationally, giving up 119 yards a game. Removed 40(!) sacks for 253 yards and opponents do get up to 4.0 yards a pop. This is a good run defense, yeah, but it's not on the same level as Alabama, Notre Dame, MSU, or OSU (when OSU isn't giving up 70-yard touchdowns). The defensive tackles are not pocket-crushers, the safeties like to shoulder-block people down after they get first downs and stand over them like idiots, which might be an asset when Denard breaks into the secondary if any of them have the chutzpah to try that against 16.

Is it going to matter? Probably not. In the game of "can Michigan run a football with Not Denard," bet on "no." Can Michigan effectively integrate Denard into a 20-carry presence if he's not playing quarterback? Well…

Key Matchup: I wonder if two months is enough time for Borges to figure out how to put Denard and Devin on the field at the same time. Denard's great; he can't beat out 10 guys going for him on the snap; just Percy Harvin the guy already and stop holding up a huge sign that says RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN when Denard is at QB. Also you can probably run Gardner some since it's the last game of the year.


Pass Offense vs South Carolina


Clowney is basically Brandon Graham

The headline here is of course the battle between Taylor Lewan and Jadaveon Clowney, both likely top-ten draft picks. If I was South Carolina I might shift that battle to the other side of the line, but as detailed earlier it's pick your poison with the Gamecocks and their 3.3 sacks a game plus bonus bloody decaptitations that happen a split second after the ball is gone. USC defensive ends have more significantly more sacks than Michigan's entire team—Clowney is not a one man show.

Michigan does seem relatively well-prepared for withstanding the South Carolina pass rush since their offense since the Denard Robinson injury has been one long series of unconvincing max-protect play-action passes to Jeremy Gallon. Borges seems to figure that Gallon is too quick for many folks to cover effectively no matter how many guys are in coverage against guys not going downfield, and this has been a relatively good bet. While it's somewhat limited, it's better than risking the above. At the very least Michigan should be planning to line up a tight end next to Schofield to help.

Judging South Carolina's secondary is difficult since it's hard to tell which parts of the pass efficiency numbers are good coverage and which parts are quarterbacks flinging the ball willy-nilly to avoid death by Clowney. On the one hand, Tyler Bray put up 368 yards and 4 TDs. On the other, Aaron Murray struggled to 109 yards and an INT on 31 attempts. On the whole, South Carolina finished 35th in pass efficiency D—good, but not great when you consider the bonus a fierce pass rush usually provides the defense. They can be had… if you can keep your quarterback from coughing up blood. That's easier said than done.

As for Michigan, Devin Gardner's stellar run to kick off a career at quarterback came to something of a thudding halt against the Buckeyes. He read long-to-short effectively on a 75-yard touchdown to Roy Roundtree, but if we are being bracingly honest with ourselves that shirt doesn't fit anymore and that play was more Ohio State busting huge than Michigan doing anything great. If CJ Barnett doesn't go durrr, that's a 15 yards play. Outside of that, 19 Gardner attempts went for 96 yards and an interception.

That shouldn't erase some excellent work turned in during the previous three games. After a shaky start against Minnesota, Gardner dissected Northwestern and Iowa, displaying uncanny deep accuracy and an innate sense for when to scramble. He should continue to get more comfortable rapidly as he transitions back from wide receiver and presents a difficult problem for defenses if Michigan deigns to run the guy, like, on purpose.

Michigan's receivers versus South Carolina cornerbacks look to be a push. Neither has a true star; neither is truly bad, though with Michigan I may be judging by comparison to the RB corps.

Key Matchup: Obviously this is Michigan Blocky Guys versus A Deluge Of Terror.

Run Defense vs South Carolina


the NFL will never do this

If you haven't seen the Gamecocks play in a while, you might be surprised to find out that they are essentially an RR spread 'n' shred. While neither of South Carolina's quarterbacks will be confused for Denard any time soon, they get plenty of attempts—between them a total of 118. This is a typical example; Spurrier especially loves to pull the ball on short yardage:

That's Dylan Thompson, who got his first start against Clemson. He got sacked four times for 35 yards of damage, and rushed for 73 yards—on purpose!—on 10 other attempts. He was by far the Gamecocks' most effective weapon on the ground in that game. Other Gamecock rushers combined for 96 yards on 31 carries, with one 26-yard inside zone read handoff the only significant gain on the day.

That has been a trend for a while. When Kenny Miles entered after the gruesome Lattimore injury he ground out 3.4 YPC, and even that guy could only crack 100 yards against Vandy, Georgia, and something that purports to be an SEC team named Kentucky. The South Carolina OL is a question mark at best, and Michigan can expect do do something in-between the total obliteration offered up by LSU and Florida and the grinding three-yards-and-cloud-of-dust stuff the Cocks managed against bad defenses post-Lattimore.

Key Matchup: Unblocked defensive ends keeping contain. Michigan's had a few issues with it, and Spurrier has been surprisingly adept at getting those QBs loose on 20-yard keepers.

Pass Defense vs South Carolina


Well, at least Michigan doesn't have to worry about whether JT Floyd will get burned deep in this one. This is because JT Floyd is not playing. In his stead it's likely Courtney Avery moves over from nickel once again. When Michigan goes nickel—something they figure to do relatively infrequently—true freshman Terry Richardson will likely get the call with Delonte Hollowell and Dennis Norfleet waiting in the wings. Collectively, Michigan's secondary now sports one guy over 5'9", and two guys who are basically oompa-loompas in Hollowell and Norfleet.

The good news for Michigan is that South Carolina goes toe to toe with anyone in the country for Oompa-Loompas. Virtually every throw you see tomorrow will be at either a tight end or a 5'9" waterbug. Here's that compilation of every Gamecock passing attempt against Missouri again:

South Carolina throws a ton of short stuff looking for YAC and endeavors to keep their QBs both clean—the South Carolina OL gives up almost as many sacks as Clowney and company acquire—and sane. It works pretty well overall, as the Gamecocks approach the top 20 in passer efficiency, but Michigan's concerns here are more about tackling guys in front of them than worrying about getting burned over the top.

That's going to be hard down Floyd and getting paper thin at corner, especially given that the nickelback is necessarily going to be capital-t Tiny. Ace Sanders is legit.


There's nothing Michigan can do to prevent him from getting matched up on a fresh face at nickel or a linebacker, neither of which is an appealing prospect. Thompson does tend to sit in the pocket a long, long time to get those thing developing, so Mattison may be able to confuse that guy into some bad decisions, but if South Carolina is just chucking screens at the guy I can see that going poorly in four-wide sets where he's to the boundary. In those situations Jake Ryan will split to the field and then it's either Raymon Taylor moving over to play boundary or a leetle guy trying to fend off a block.

Also, we have little information on how Thompson affects the pass game. Initial indications are Spurrier is more comfortable letting him chuck it downfield. Thompson had a much more OBC QB line than anything Shaw's turned in this year, hitting 23 of 41 for 310 yards, 3 TDs, and an INT. That's still not quite there, but it's not bad for a first start.

Michigan's safeties have been a no touchdown zone for most of the year and should remain that way; I suspect that dink and dunk is going to be effective enough to move the ball despite what projects to be a deficient South Carolina rushing attack.

Key Matchup: Greg Mattison versus confusing Dylan Thompson. Kid is new, and figures to be in some passing downs. Hello okie.

Special Teams

As mentioned above, Ace Sanders is scary. He's averaging almost 15 yards a punt return and has a touchdown to go with the ridiculous Missouri jukefest embedded above.

FEI has the Gamecocks' punt return game in the top 25; South Carolina also has an excellent kicker.

The rest of their special teams are terrible. For some reason they don't use Sanders on kick returns, which rank 118th. Punting is meh, and they are poor at kickoffs.

Michigan does not have Will Hagerup, he of the infinite strikes. In his place they'll deploy sophomore Matt Wile, who was perfectly fine in about five games last year, averaging 42 yards a kick without incident. This year his numbers are seriously deflated because he's been deployed as a pooch punter exclusively. He won't match Hagerup's distance (who does?) but given that the punt coverage has given back all of that advantage already—70th in net punting—the absence won't be felt much.

The rest of Michigan's special teams is as per usual: excellent kicking, nonexistent punt return game featuring Jeremy Gallon making too many bad decisions, inability to block anyone on kickoffs. Denard may pop up on those latter items, though.

Key Matchup: Brendan Gibbons versus lack of hair. If he goes 0/3 in this game after giving up the Keith Stone look we'll all know why.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Lewan cannot keep Clowney at bay.
  • Michigan's gameplan is on par with their Sugar Bowl plan.
  • Denard continues to line up at quarterback despite all eleven players moving to the LOS when he does.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Devin + Denard == most of the offense.
  • Jake Ryan on the edge is death to the short stuff.
  • Devin's deep accuracy returns.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for CLOWNEY SMASH, +1 for Give Michigan A Month To Prepare And You Get… The Sugar Bowl Or Alabama Gameplan?, +1 for Shallow Secondary, –1 for Opponent Musical Chair At QB Too, –1 for No Lattimore And OL Issues, +1 for Kind Of Road Game, +1 for They S'posed To Be SEC)

Desperate need to win level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for Denard's Last Rodeo, +1 for Keep SEC Dominance Going, –1 for Inherently Meaningless Exhibition, –1 for In Half-Full Stadium, –1 for In Stupid Uniforms, –1 for That Has Essentially No Bearing On Anything, +1 for But I Am Going, –1 for Why Am I Going?, +1 for Oh Right Denard)

Loss will cause me to... execute searing self-examination about why I thought this would be a good idea at all.

Win will cause me to... high-five self for decision to go over and over.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

I don't really have much hope Borges can think his way out of the conundrum he faces tomorrow. The second half against Ohio State has drained most of my hope that Michigan was capable of integrating the two-QB system they're running in any but the literally most-predictable way possible. It was a bad flashback to DeBord days of yore. Maybe we'll get the Citrus Bowl "WHERE WAS THAT MY ENTIRE LIFE" bittersweet page-flip… but I'll have to see it to believe it after the last two years in which it seems like more time has meant worse preparation.

The offense will sputter; Denard will probably rip off a big play or two and Michigan will get to test those safeties more than they are used to with all the max-pro and Lewan hanging around; still hard to see M getting much above 20, and every handoff to a tailback is setting a down on fire.

South Carolina's offense isn't particularly talented but they have a coherent system of short passes and zone reads that keep them afloat when they are annihilating themselves like they did against Florida. I don't expect they'll be able to run much, and they'll bog down, too. Special teams and short fields figure to play a prominent role in a knock-down, drag-out slugfest. In that case, bet on the massive pass rush instead of the mediocre one.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Denard throws! It's incomplete.
  • Devin runs! On purpose! Once.
  • Neither team cracks 300 yards.
  • South Carolina, 20-16


Zone Left

December 31st, 2012 at 1:28 PM ^

I'm not sold on Michigan having an advantage anywhere in this game. South Carolina is 10-2 with losses to two teams with seriously vicious defenses. They've basically won comfortably against everyone else, except for the ugly win against Tennessee. On the other hand, Michigan hasn't really beaten a good team yet this season.


December 31st, 2012 at 4:58 PM ^

I agree, we turned the ball over way too much to completely blame it all on borges, but i still think his gameplan will get shit on tomorrow...


Hopefully they watched Denards freshman film when he never really threw and just took snaps and got tackled almost instantly...


Unless he can throw..  but  i doubt it.


Can't wait to watch us continually put him at QB and get just smashed at the LOS


December 31st, 2012 at 8:24 PM ^

They barely beat Vanderbilt 17-13...but yes they did beat Wofford 24-7.

Yeah they are good but let's not get carried away.

If we can get Denard, Gardner, or Gallon for that matter, behind their front four we will have an advantage.  Their ends come very hard and fast and the defense behind them is fair at best.  Not saying Borges will get it done but that's where Michigan can do damage.


December 31st, 2012 at 2:18 PM ^


The sample size for this is n = 2 right? I presume no one is counting the drubbings of Purdue following byes the last two seasons because that was more time and a fine result.

Instead, we are gnashing our teeth over the Sugar Bowl when the best center in the country (and seeming lynch pin of the OL) hurt himself minutes before the game--and Michigan still won--and the season opener against Alabama--where the defense was run out the stadium in the first quarter.

I'd hardly say that data is conclusive.


December 31st, 2012 at 4:14 PM ^

We scored twice as many Touchdowns as the opponent with an excellent defensive coordinator too. Our defense held them to that one touchdown with injured defensive lineman making their 3rd string kicker hit 4 of 5 FG. Sounds like a good game plan to me.

If we're only talking offense the only teams to score more on Bama than us was LSU in Death Valley (a whole 3 more points), the Heisman trophy winner, and a Georgia team that could be playing for a national championship. And none of them had Saban's D preparing for months. That preparation thing works both ways; not only one team gets the extra time. Some of them even have pretty good coaches.


December 31st, 2012 at 1:58 PM ^

I'm just going to focus on watching Denard play for The Team in one more game.  

Borges general futility and lack of imagination? Going to ignore that.

Norfleet on defense? I have a plan to convince myself that this is not real. It involves beer.

Win v. Loss? Not really that important to me.


Thanks to Brian and staff. Great content all season long. This site is the best. Much appreciated. Happy New Year, keep up the great work, and Go Blue!


December 31st, 2012 at 2:19 PM ^

It's amazing to watch how Clowney consistently gets his outside shoulder free around the end, and then hooks his arm over the DE's, so that holding him is the only hope of stopping him. He's a bad man with angry, angry hands.

Ty Butterfield

December 31st, 2012 at 3:14 PM ^

Can't stand to see Vincent Smith running up the middle on 3rd and three for no gain. Hopefully Michigan keeps it relatively close and doesn't get embarrassed on national TV again.


December 31st, 2012 at 5:02 PM ^

neither can I.. If we are going to give it to Smith at least we could insert Norfleet here and at least give someone with a juking ability and speed to try to make something happen..  V. Smith just doesn't work, except on the throw back screen

Indiana Blue

December 31st, 2012 at 3:46 PM ^

We are playing an SEC team in a bowl game (ok - forget Tennessee).  Chance for a little redemption against probably the 5th best team in the SEC behind Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Florida.  

Our last taste of football for 8 months !

Go Blue! 


December 31st, 2012 at 5:07 PM ^

Don: "South Carolina if Ohio State Borges is in attendance."

Brian: "The second half against Ohio State has drained most of my hope that Michigan was capable of integrating the two-QB system their running in any but the literally most-predictable way possible."

Me: For the life of me I don't understand why Gardner at QB and Robinson somewhere else should be a problem for Borges.  Robinson in space with the ball is the most dangerous player in America.  So get him the ball in space and let him do his thing.  I'm no OC, but I don't see a reason why that is fundamentally impossible. 

So ...

  • If Gardner is QB, and
  • Offensive line gives Gardner at least some time, and
  • Robinson is playing WR, slot, RB ... rinse, repeat, and
  • Gallon, Dileo and Roundtree show up ... then
  • SC has a few things to worry about

If, however, "Ohio State Borges" shows up ... then it's going to be a bad day.


December 31st, 2012 at 5:17 PM ^

Think this is a bit more than meaningless exhibition game. This is a Top 10 opponent that is a member of the top conference.

Win here could be big for the future in terms of momentum for next year (the schedule should be much easier than this year's). Huge for seniors also.

It is not a BCS bowl but do think a win here makes this season look a lot better and continues the momentum from last season.


December 31st, 2012 at 5:53 PM ^

Keep in mind that time to come up with a good gameplan is also the same time the SC defensive coordinator to read figure out all of Michigan's tells. If reading this blog can help me call out plays before they happen, then Michigan is going to have to out execute.

I think this gane will be close and will swing on a deep turnover.


December 31st, 2012 at 7:53 PM ^

I want to be optimistic, but their only losses are to Florida and LSU and they beat Georgia and Clemson.  The only teams to hold South Carolina under 21 points was Vanderbilt in their first game of the year and Florida who may have the best defense in the country.  If they scored 23 on LSU and 35 on Georgia, I see them scoring in the mid-to-high 30's on us.  I think their reciever's speed will give our linebackers and secondary trouble, they will break a punt or kick off big, and on the other side of the ball their pass rush will be hard to handle.  I think for us to keep this game competitive Devin has to be very accurate and mix in quite a bit of runs to keep them off balance & obviously we have to find a way to get Denard involved.  It just doesn't seem likely all that will happen.  I see more like a 35-13 ish outcome unfortunately.  I hope to be presently surprised that Devin looks great and is able to use his feet to avoid pressure and completes a high percentage, Denard is effective & is on the field most snaps, Hayes gets some carries and shows some flashes, Devin to Devin happens and they have no anwser for him, Lewan announces he is staying another year, we see Richardson and he's really fast, Norfleet finally breaks one, and Jake Ryan is all over the place.


December 31st, 2012 at 10:14 PM ^

Alabama is legit, and the SEC lost to almost no one outside their conference.  But consider who they played (good teams in bold):

S. Carolina:  E. Carolina, UAB, Wofford, Clemson

Florida:  Bowling Green, LA-Lafayette, Jacksonville St., Florida State

Georgia:  Buffalo, Florida Atl, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech

LSU:  N. Texas, Washington, Idaho, Towson

Miss. St.*:  Jackson St., Troy, S. Alabama, Mid. Tennessee

So. . . yeah.  Real vicious gauntlets there, #7 Georgia and #8 LSU.  WTF??  So all we have to go on to gauge half the Top Ten teams in the country* is how they beat each other up.  That's how Mississippi State wound up being like #11 for a week.  I understand being spooked because the SEC has been the strongest conference for a while now AND Michigan got spanked by Alabama, but as a whole, the SEC this year does not look nearly as scary as they have the past few.  Florida obviously brought their A-game against rival FSU but this is the same school that needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat LA-Lafayette.  Now granted ND almost laid an egg against Pitt, but we played ND and almost took 'em.  Tomorrow after all the bowls are played my assessment might wind up looking very silly, but to clarify my point, I'm not saying the SEC is bad (please understand this, "overrated" does NOT necessarily mean "bad"). . . I'm just saying we just have relatively little evidence they're good, either.  For the most part, I haven't seen them DO anything -- or at least when they do, they've looked as vulnerable as any other major conference.  Hell, Auburn and Arkansas are typically competitive and neither were even bowl eligible this season.

Incidentally S. Carolina has one of the SEC's most impressive wins this season by beating Clemson, which doesn't look good for Michigan, but I'd rather beat good teams than hide from them.  It's a bowl game FFS; would you be more excited if we played a Sun Belt team?  I'm more worried about Borges than S. Carolina.  Use Denard as a tailback and Michigan has the talent to stay with them.  My biggest fear is that Borges won't.

*Including Miss. State because it's ridiculous how far they got up the rankings by riding "SEC BABY!" coattails playing the above joke of an OOC schedule.  Never forget.

Zone Left

December 31st, 2012 at 10:46 PM ^

Most top teams don't play anyone out of conference. Fact is that Alabama has won two out of three titles and is about to win three of four. If they would have lost last year, LSU would be defending champs. If they had lost again this year, Notre Dame would be overmatched by a different SEC team (Florida). The SEC is going to win at least five of seven games this bowl season on top of another national title.

Regardless of your thoughts about the SEC and why they win so much, they definitely have earned the presumption of excellence until they start losing some big games.


January 1st, 2013 at 11:29 AM ^

Incidentally, the two teams in the title game both played some school we've all heard of.  They wear blue and yellow, or something.  I don't think they're a cupcake, though.

And Clemson beat LSU.  There's still plenty of time to prove me wrong, but again, my point isn't necessarily that the SEC is weak.  I just think giving teams or conferences the benefit of the doubt is the furthest thing from analysis.

Zone Left

January 1st, 2013 at 6:30 PM ^

Yeah, and we probably should have won one of those games and I might as well have been playing in the other one. Alabama is pretty clearly in a different league than Notre Dame is, having seen both teams play.

College football's very design makes real, in-depth analysis tricky at best. Each team plays about 10% of the other teams, there is very high roster turnover, really small sample sizes, and there are very few high-quality intersectional matchups to allow anyone to approach solid comparisons about teams that aren't in the same conference. Regular and advanced stats comparisons try to do this, but those analyses are limited by the same problems I listed above.

The Big 10 lost two of three against the SEC today and probably the biggest surprise is that the SEC didn't win all three. The gap looks narrower today than it has in years past, but someone has to knock them down before you can realistically not give the SEC the benefit of the doubt.