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South Carolina: first look

December 3rd, 2012 by Justin Potts


Prior to the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday night, all signs pointed towards Michigan facing probable Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Capital One Bowl. But the stunning 70-31 beatdown that Nebraska took at the hands of Wisconsin changed that. Instead, it’s the Cornhuskers who are heading to Orlando and Michigan gets a more favorable matchup against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

8-4 (6-2) Tuesday, Jan. 1 – 1pm – ESPN 10-2 (6-2

Steve Spurrier’s squad went 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC, finishing third in the SEC East behind Georgia and Florida. The only two losses were in back to back weeks to Florida and LSU, coming on the heels of a 35-7 win over Georgia – the Bulldogs’ only loss prior to the SEC Championship game. The loss to LSU was close (23-21) when the Gamecocks had climbed to No. 3 in the national rankings. The following week, however, SC was throttled by Florida 44-11. Despite allowing 44 points, Carolina’s defense held Florida to just 183 total yards.

The only other ranked team South Carolina beat was then-No. 11 Clemson in the final week of the season, 27-17. The rest of non-conference schedule featured 8-4 East Carolina, 3-9 UAB, and 9-3 Wofford – an FCS school.

With a very tough bowl slate due to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for postseason play, the Big Ten doesn’t stand much of a chance this bowl season, but can Michigan do its part? Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

South Carolina 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison
South Carolina Michigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 31.4 | 30.0 43 | 57 17.4 | 18.8 13 | 16
Rushing Yards 1,715 | 2,248 1,428 | 1,872
Rush Avg. Per Game 142.9 | 187.3 84 | 39 119.0 | 156.0 15 | 57
Avg. Per Rush 3.6 | 4.9 3.1 | 3.8
Passing Yards 2,754 | 2,377 2,319 | 1,862
Pass Avg. Per Game 229.5 | 198.1 65 | 95 193.2 | 155.2 17 | 2
Total Offense 4,469 | 4,625 3,747 | 3,734
Total Off Avg. Per Game 372.4 | 385.4 87 | 80 312.2 | 311.2 12 | 11
Kick Return Average 20.9 | 22.1 73 | 54 23.5 | 23.1 97 | 92
Punt Return Average 13.4 | 8.6 15 | 63 4.0 | 7.6 12 | 59
Avg. Time of Possession 30:25 | 29:31 48 | 75 29:35 | 30:29
3rd Down Conversion Pct 43% | 51% 43 | 6 36% | 36% 35 | 33
Sacks By-Yards 40-253 | 19-166 5 | 85 35-242 | 15-109 104 | 25
Touchdowns Scored 49 | 45 24 | 23
Field Goals-Attempts 11-15 | 15-18 14-17 | 21-28
Red Zone Scores (38-46) 83% | (38-41) 93% 45 | 4 (28-39) 72% | (33-40) 82% 14 | 69
Red Zone Touchdowns (30-46) 65% | (26-41) 63% (17-39) 44% | (18-40) 45%

On paper, Michigan and South Carolina are pretty comparable. Both have average offenses and very good defenses. Michigan scores 30 points per game, while SC have averaged a little over a point more. Carolina gives up 17.4 points per game, while Michigan gives up a little over a point more. Michigan has the better rushing game, the ‘Cocks have the better passing game, but total yards are only 13 more in Michigan’s favor. Defensively, the two allow nearly the exact same number of yards per game – Michigan gives up one yard less. It’s hard to get more evenly matched.

Connor Shaw won't be the best QB Michigan has faced, but completes 67% of his passes and is capable with his legs

South Carolina’s offense was dealt a huge blow on Oct. 27 against Tennessee when star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury – for the second straight season. He had 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry prior to the injury. His replacement, senior Kenny Miles, has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in his stead. However, that was helped out by a 127-yard game against FCS Wofford. In the three games against BCS competition, that number dips to 2.9.

Quarterback Connor Shaw is the team’s third leading rusher with 339 yards on 112 carries and has completed 67.3 percent of his passes. He’s only averaging 173.2 yards per game through the air, which ranks 11th in the SEC, but he does have a 15-7 touchdown to interception ratio. Against Tennessee, he threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns, but against Florida he was held to just 72 yards on 9-of-20 passing. However, Shaw didn’t start the team’s final game against Clemson due to a foot injury. That went to sophomore Dylan Thompson who chucked it up 41 times for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Shaw will likely start against Michigan.

The receiving corps is mainly a two-man show with Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders getting the most receptions – 38 and 36, respectively. Ellington had back to back 100-yard games against Tennessee and Arkansas, while Sanders had a 119-yard game against Clemson and leads the team with seven touchdowns. Tight end Justice Cunningham has 22 catches for 287 yards but has yet to catch one in the end zone, fellow tight end Rory Anderson has just 15 catches but five have gone for touchdowns.

The offensive line has given up 35 sacks, which ranks 12th in the SEC, and has paved the way for just 142.9 yards per game on the ground. Michigan’s defensive front hadn’t gotten to the quarterback much all season, but played well against Ohio State, so that gives reason for optimism.

Defensively, South Carolina is one of the best in the country at getting to the quarterback and will present perhaps an even tougher challenge for Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. Led by sackmaster Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks lead the SEC and rank fifth nationally with 40 sacks. Clowney has 13 of them. To put that in perspective, Ohio State’s defense which sacked Michigan four times finished the season with 30.

Carolina is very good against both the run and the pass, ranking 15th and 17th nationally. The rush defense ranks fourth in the SEC, allowing just 119 yards per game, while the pass defense gives up 193. The ‘Cocks held seven opponents under 20 points and five to 10 or fewer. But in the second half of the season, when the schedule got tougher, they allowed a full touchdown more per game. Toss out Wofford and it’s nearly 11 points more than the season average.

Jadeveon Clowney may be the best pass rusher in college football

Opposite of Clowney, end Chaz Sutton has five sacks, while another end, Aldrick Fordham, has 4.5. The leading tackler is Shaq linebacker Shaq Wilson with 77. He also has two sacks and two interceptions.

One thing South Carolina isn’t good at is punting. The Gamecocks rank last in the SEC with a net average of just 36 yards per punt as a team. Punter Tyler Hull averages 39.4. In the return game, Sanders handles the punt returns and has taken one for a touchdown. He’s the top returner in the conference, averaging 14.5 yards per.

It will be the first matchup between the two schools since 1985 when Michigan went to Columbia and won 34-3. The only other previous meeting was a 17-14 loss in 1980, so this will be the rubber match. Michigan is 23-7-1 all-time against schools from the SEC – 7-4 in bowl games – and will be looking to even its all-time bowl record at 21. Stay tuned for much more about the matchup in the weeks leading up to New Year’s Day.