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M&GB Staff Predictions: South Carolina

Monday, December 31st, 2012


Last time Michigan took the field, Sam was almost exactly right with his prediction of 27-21 Ohio State. The actual score was 26-21. It was Sam’s second win of the season, moving him into a tie with Chris, Josh, and Katie for second. If any one of them win this week, he or she will tie Matt for the weekly title. If not, Matt will win it outright. This is a tough one to pick because nobody really knows how Denard will be utilized and we aren’t that familiar with South Carolina. The Gamecocks are favored to win, so let’s take a look at our picks:

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY

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Justin: Michigan 20 – South Carolina 24

Chris: Michigan 17 - South Carolina 30

Josh: Michigan 21 – South Carolina 31

Sam: Michigan 17 – South Carolina 27

Katie: Michigan 30 – South Carolina 24

Matt: Michigan 31 – South Carolina 28

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Average: South Carolina 27 – Michigan 23

Justin (1): I’ve said it several times already, but I think Al Borges will determine who wins this game. South Carolina has a very good defense led by outstanding pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney and if Michigan’s offense is as predictable as it was in the second half of the Ohio State game, Michigan doesn’t stand a chance. I do think Michigan has the advantage of getting five weeks to prepare. Yes, both teams get that amount of time, but the way the offense changed when Denard was replaced at quarterback by Devin Gardner negates any advantage South Carolina’s defensive staff has to look at film. Nobody truly knows how Denard will be utilized and it’s up to Borges to call a great game, using Denard all over the field in a variety of packages and giving him the threat of throwing it. That’s the only way to keep South Carolina’s defense on its heels.

The Gamecocks will look to run right at Michigan and exploit J.T. Floyd’s replacement, Courtney Avery. Steve Spurrier will employ a two-quarterback attack to try to keep Michigan’s defense off balance. Connor Shaw is a dual threat, while Dylan Thompson is a more traditional passer.

It will take a flawlessly executed game by Michigan’s offense to win and I don’t see that happening. It will be a close game, but South Carolina’s defense will be too much for Michigan to execute perfectly. For more, see the First Look, this morning’s Game Preview,  Friday’s Friend vs Foe, or my Q&A with Garnet and Black Attack.

South Carolina 24 – Michigan 20

Chris (2): This bowl matchup presents an interesting matchup for the Wolverines. South Carolina started the season with stud running back Marcus Lattimore in the backfield, but he was lost to a gruesome knee injury mid-way through the year. Since then, the Gamecocks have lacked a real threat in the running game and have gone to a more wide-open spread attack with mobile QBs Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. For being a Steve Spurrier coached team, South Carolina doesn’t pass as much as you would think.

Connor Shaw started most of the season but will share time with Dylan Thompson on Tuesday

On the other side, Michigan has lacked a true running game all season. Other than when Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner has run the ball, Michigan has been unable to move the ball on the ground. Like South Carolina, Michigan only really throws the ball when they have to. Once Denard injured his elbow during the Nebraska game, Gardner was able to provide a spark in the passing game despite not having played the position much so far in his Michigan career.

In 2012, defenses led both of these teams. Michigan led the NCAA in total pass defense for the majority of the season but was not very good against the run. South Carolina, on the other hand, looked to have one of college football’s best total defenses early on, but they were exposed in back-to-back weeks against LSU and Florida.  Still, they are good against both the run and pass due to their overall defensive talent and speed.  They also feature an outstanding pass rush, led by a freak of a player in All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

I think Michigan is going to have their hands full in this game. Without a running game to keep the defense honest, South Carolina will be able to focus on containing Robinson and Gardner in the backfield. As long as they don’t rush too quickly upfield, they should be able to limit their ability to escape the pocket. Even if they do get out in space, South Carolina is fast enough to limit their total yardage.  I do think Michigan will be able to limit South Carolina in the passing game, but it won’t matter as that’s not the focus of the Gamecock offense. South Carolina will feature a balanced attack with a mobile QB and a lot of overall speed. While I’ll be cheering for the Wolverines, I think South Carolina wins.

South Carolina 30 – Michigan 17

Josh (2): Michigan has a chance to once again beat an SEC team. Something the rest of the Big Ten can’t seem to do lately; I’m talking to you Ohio St.

With Devin Gardner solidified as the starting QB, Michigan has gained a legit passing threat and Denard will no doubt be featured at various positions in his Wolverine finale. Just what those positions may be is yet to be determined, but rest assured he’ll be out there doing everything he can to help Michigan win another bowl game for Brady Hoke. Given Al Borges’ tendency for crappy play calling in big games recently I am not so optimistic heading into this match up. South Carolina isn’t as explosive on offense as they were with Marcus Lattimore but they aren’t anything to scoff at. However, Michigan’s defense should be able to keep the Gamecock’s offense in check giving the offense a chance to put some points on the board.

Jadeveon Clowney has been dominant all season

With the recent addition of a passing game Michigan know only needs to find its running game. With Fitz out that task rests on the shoulders of Denard Robinson, Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith. I’m not sure who will step up, if anyone, but someone needs to help Gardner out with a rushing attack. Given what we’ve seen thus far, I’d say Denard is our only chance of having a rushing game though. If he can stay healthy and on the field, Michigan has a chance to win the game. But the Gamecock defense will be doing everything they can to hit Denard and hit him hard every time he has the ball. If Denard isn’t out there every play Michigan’s chances of winning this game drop dramatically. The Gamecock’s defense is not one you want to face with a one-dimensional offense.

The heart of that defense is what scares me (and most other teams) the most, Jadeveon Clowney. For me this game will come down to Michigan’s ability to keep Clowney from being a disruptive force as he has been all season. I just don’t see that happening. Taylor Lewan is an All-American, but I’m not so sure he’s even worthy of being an All-Big Ten lineman. I expect South Carolina to move Clowney around the defensive front to give Michigan different looks and to exploit mismatches as often as possible. Gardner and Denard are both great athletes and not prone to taking sacks, and Clowney may not rack up any sacks or TFL’s but I still think he will leave his fingerprints all over the outcome of this game.

Gardner is mobile and can definitely make plays but I just don’t see Michigan coming out of this one with a win if they cannot get the run game going as well. South Carolina’s defense is better than OSU’s, and poor play calling aside, the Buckeyes shut us down in the 2nd half of that game. The Ole Ball Coach is a wily veteran and as much as it pains me to predict a Michigan loss, that is what I am doing. I sure hope I’m wrong though!

South Carolina 31 – Michigan 21

Matt (3): What a great time of year this is. Although the end of the season always brings disappointment, knowing we won’t get that college football experience until next August, bowl games and the National Championship are always something to get excited for.

We Michigan fans haven’t had the greatest year, seeing as Michigan lost four games. Although, when you look at the losses, it’s not as bad as it seems. Losing to Alabama and Notre Dame, who are currently ranked #1 and #2 and will be meeting on January 7th in the National Championship Game, isn’t something to be too down on. The loss against Ohio State hurts, but they did go undefeated. The Nebraska loss was tough, and many feel if Devin Gardner came in instead of Russell Bellomy that it would have been a whole different ball game. But enough about that.

Dylan Thompson's great game against Clemson earned him playing time in the Outback

Michigan will be playing a New Year’s Day bowl game, the Outback Bowl, against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Another Big Ten vs SEC matchup.

If you compare ratings, these teams are similar. South Carolina gets the edge in rushing yards per game, but they are without Marcus Lattimore. The Gamecocks get the edge in passing yards per game as well, with Connor Shaw leading the team. Shaw has had an impressive year.

Michigan still has the dual-threat combination of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner at quarterback, although we aren’t sure how Al Borges will decide to use them in the bowl game. Will they both be on the field at the same time? Or will they split snaps?

Looking at stats, South Carolina has held teams to less points compared to Michigan, but not by that many.

I think the key to Michigan gaining this victory is how Al Borges decides to play Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. If you have both of these incredible athletes on the field, you have the defense spread thin, having to cover both men very heavily.

Both are a huge threat at any position they play, although I prefer seeing Gardner at quarterback while Robinson is at running back or receiver.

It’s going to be a tough game for the Michigan Wolverines. South Carolina plays in the SEC. We all know the SEC is a top notch conference. Their only losses were at the hands of Florida and LSU. Michigan is definitely going to have their hands full. But I see Brady Hoke, Al Borges and Greg Mattison having these guys ready. And at the end of the 4th quarter, I see Michigan winning by a small margin.

Write it down folks! Michigan wins this one, 31-28. Go Blue!

Michigan 31 – South Carolina 28

Sam (2): [Sam didn't get a chance to submit a full write-up, but submitted his score prediction].

South Carolina 27 – Michigan 17

Katie (2): The outlook for this game looks to be pretty even. South Carolina is ranked just out of the top ten, and Michigan just inside the top twenty. Their defenses are #12 and #11, respectively. As for the offensive side of the ball, neither are in the top fifty, though the Wolverines do rank in at #6 in third down conversion, while the Gamecocks are a considerably lower #43. Michigan is also #40 in rushing offense, and while their opponent can’t better that they also lost their leading rusher Marcus Lattimore to a horrific knee injury this season. Michigan however, was able to bring back their wounded star for the Ohio State game, and though Robinson won’t likely be passing he still has the potential to be lethal with his feet, and perhaps even deadlier in some type of wildcat offense alongside Devin Gardner. But the Gamecocks won’t be any pushover even against a potent Michigan backfield, as they have a formidable rush and red zone defense, and a long tally of intercepted passes that will test the Wolverines oft scoring offense.

With the defenses being on par with each other, this match-up will be about how the offenses break down the opposing side. And Michigan should look to keep South Carolina to under 21 points, as only two losses were when they scored three touchdowns or less, and because they scored 30 or more points in seven games. With an average of just over 13 yards a catch offense, Carolina will keep Michigan’s #2 pass defense on their toes. Which means that the coaches will have to know what to dial in to switch up the game plan in case their team finds itself in a rut.

Overall, it looks to be a great New Year’s day game.

Michigan 30 – Ohio State 24

Friend vs Foe: South Carolina edition

Friday, December 28th, 2012


For the final Friend vs. Foe of the season, we are proud to welcome John Havard from the South Carolina SB Nation blog, Garnet and Black Attack. He will provide his perspective on how or why the Gamecocks can beat Michigan on Tuesday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for South Carolina
by John

Michigan and South Carolina have played each other twice, splitting a home-and-home in non-consecutive seasons in the early 1980s. Interestingly enough, Carolina won the Ann Arbor game, while Michigan won in Columbia. The former occurred during George Rodgers’s Heisman season, the latter during a good 10-1-1 season for Bo Schembechler and the Wolverines. Given the sparse history between the two schools, I’m assuming most Michigan fans don’t know a whole lot about South Carolina and haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to us this year, other than perhaps during the couple of weeks during mid-season when Carolina was briefly considered a national title contender by the national media. Therefore, I’ll provide a quick rundown on what kind of team we have prior to making my prediction.

Let's hope Clowney doesn't make Michigan's line look like this

At its best, South Carolina fields a dominant, disruptive defense and a competent but no-frills offense that tries to keep the defense in a good position so the defense can dictate the nature of the game. Defensively, the team is keyed by the Gamecocks’ most recognizable player, Jadeveon Clowney. The pass rush is by far the strength of the South Carolina defense, and Clowney is likely the best in the nation where rushing the passer is concerned. The Gamecocks are also solid against the run, with good tackles and an experienced, although not spectacular linebacking corps. The main weakness is pass coverage, but the pass rush negates this weakness to a certain degree, and the secondary has played very well at times, it must also be said. The benchmark game for the Carolina defense came against Georgie, when the Gamecocks more or less completely shut down one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. This game also showcased the desired performance from the Carolina offense. The Gamecocks built a lead early on and proceeded to work the running game throughout the evening, both out of the I and in read-option spread sets. Carolina definitely passes the ball–we’re coaches by Steve Spurrier, after all–but it’s more a team that likes to pass to keep the opposing team on its toes and to strike against a gassed defense than one that lives by the pass. The exact run-pass ratio, though, depends on certain factors. We’re first of all a bit more pass-happy since Marcus Lattimore went down against Tennessee. We’re also more pass-happy when Dylan Thompson is in the game, whereas you’ll see more read-option calls with Shaw in. Both QBs will likely play, although Shaw will start.

South Carolina isn’t always at its best, though. The defense has shown weaknesses at times, particularly against excellent passing teams like Tennessee, which was able to block the pass rush competently and exploit the weaknesses in the secondary. The offense has been shut down by LSU and Florida. (One thing that should be noted about Florida, though, is that the Gators didn’t really dominate Carolina as badly as the score suggests. The Gamecocks committed several costly turnovers in that game, mostly on special teams.) If Michigan can make hay in one of these regards, it significantly increases its chances to win the game.

Can Michigan do that, though? My impression–which isn’t worth a whole lot in this particular case–is that Michigan is a team with a solid defense and an unpredictable and all-in-all unsatisfactory offense. Defensively, I see a team that’s solid in the middle but that was exploited on the perimeter against some of the better offenses it played. Offensively, the Wolverines have some great weapons, but it wasn’t able to produce consistently against the better competition. To me, Michigan’s offense against South Carolina defense favors South Carolina. I could see the Wolverines getting some big plays here and there, either with Devin Gardner passing or Denard Robinson running, but if you can’t establish a consistent running game, you’ll have trouble negating our pass rush, which will allow our defense to dictate the game. I could definitely see Michigan’s defense having success against Carolina’s offense, but if the game ends up being a defensive battle, I like South Carolina’s defense to create more turnovers, which could help us get things started offensively. If that doesn’t work, I like us to win the battle of longevit and to wear Michigan out over the course of the game. Sans turnovers, this will likely be a very close game for most of the afternoon, but I predict we pull away late in that scenario.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

This is a much better matchup for Michigan than the likely opponents the Wolverines would have faced in the Capital One Bowl, Texas A&M or Georgia. Obviously the danger man is Jadeveon Clowney, and without Marcus Lattimore in the backfield, the South Carolina offense is much less formidable.

If Michigan is to win, it will be by employing an expanded version of the offense it ran against Iowa and in the first half of the Ohio State game. Denard should be fully healthy, or at least much closer to it than he was at any point in the final two weeks of the regular season, and that should add the element of his throwing ability into the mix. Imagine him lined up at tailback, slot, split wide, and quarterback at various points in the game, with the option to pass on any given play. It would certainly make the offense much less predictable than it was in the second half of the Ohio State game when the Buckeyes admitted afterward they knew that every time Denard was in Michigan ran it, and every time Gardner was in they threw it.

Michigan needs a great and creative gameplan, utilizing both Denard and Devin in multiple ways to beat SC

I see the five-week layoff between the OSU game and the Outback Bowl as a big advantage for Michigan because it gives Al Borges so much time to gameplan and so much practice time to incorporate Denard into it. When Denard returned against Iowa and Ohio State, he didn’t have much week-to-week time to get immersed into his new offensive role, so the play-calling was limited when he was in. The extra time to prepare benefits Michigan because it can get Denard involved in more plays and packages, while South Carolina doesn’t have much tape to look at for the way Michigan’s offense has evolved late in the season.

Of course Clowney can reek havoc on offenses, so if Michigan lets Gardner or Denard sit in the pocket and try to make throws, it won’t be pretty. Some of Gardner’s biggest plays this season have come when he had what seemed like hours to move around and find an open receiver, but that’s not going to happen with Clowney coming after him.

Defensively, Michigan matches up pretty well. Most of South Carolina’s receivers are little Jeremy Gallon types, so there isn’t a dominant deep threat that can beat them. In the backfield, without Lattimore, Carolina has been merely average. In the three games since Lattimore went down, SC’s backs have averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Take out the game against FCS opponent Wofford and the number drops to just 3.2.

The offensive line is big and decent, but has given up 35 sacks on the year, an average of about three per game, which is 104th nationally. Greg Mattison should be able to utilize some stunts and blitzes to get some pressure on whichever quarterback Steve Spurrier chooses to utilize.

Connor Shaw started most of the season, but an injury forced him to miss the finale against Clemson. His replacement, Dylan Thompson, who also saw extended time early in the season, turned in an impressive performance that earned him playing time in the Outback Bowl. How much is yet to be determined. He’s much more of a classic drop-back passer, and may be the better option for beating Michigan. He could pick apart the Michigan secondary like Trevor Siemien, James Vandenberg, and Braxton Miller were able to do late in the season. Shaw is a dual-threat and ranks third on the team in rushing. He completes 67 percent of his passes, but had horrible days in the two losses to LSU and Florida.

Overall, the teams are fairly evenly matched and it will all come down to Michigan’s ability to contain Clowney. If Taylor Lewan can hold him in check, and Borges’ play-calling is like that of the Iowa game and the first half of OSU, Michigan should be able to put up enough points to win. If not, Michigan will have a hard time outscoring the Gamecocks. Regardless, don’t expect a lopsided victory either way.

South Carolina: first look

Monday, December 3rd, 2012


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.