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Posts Tagged ‘SEC’

SEC, ACC hypocrisy on display in race to stop Harbaugh

Friday, February 12th, 2016


Harbaugh(USATSI)

Alabama may have put the Southeastern Conference back atop the college football world last month, but Jim Harbaugh isn’t backing down. The Michigan head coach has captured headlines since returning to his alma mater less than 14 months ago and his most recent ploy has shone a light on the hypocrisy of southern schools.

Harbaugh announced following Michigan’s Signing of the Stars event on Feb. 3 that he would be taking the team south for Spring Break to practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But just like his Summer Swarm football camp tour of the south and west coast last summer, the move is drawing the ire of SEC and ACC brass.

“Our primary reaction [is] that, in the face of the time-demand conversations, we’ve got one program taking what has been ‘free time’ away,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey on Tuesday. “Let’s draw a line and say, ‘That’s not appropriate.'”

In other words, Jim Harbaugh is doing something within the rules but we don’t like it so let’s change the rules so he can’t do it anymore.

He continued:

“This seems completely counter to the dialogue,” Sankey said. “We have work to do on [giving athletes a] day off. We have work to do on, how do you provide a postseason break? It seems where this is one where reasonable people could say we just shouldn’t be in this space.”

One of Harbaugh’s stated reasons for the Spring Break trip is to give the student athletes two weeks off — discretionary weeks as he called them — to focus on finals, which start April 20. By starting spring practice in late February and utilizing Spring Break for outdoor practice, team bonding, and yes, visibility to recruits, Michigan can close spring practice with two weeks off to focus on academics.

“We’re going to have swim meets, we’re going to have putt-putt golf, we’re going to have football meetings, we’re going to have practice,” Harbaugh said. “I think it gives us a chance to win on a lot of different levels. We’ll be outside, we’ll be in Florida, we’ll go to the beach. It will be a good time for our team to connect and be together. That’s a lot of levels right there to win on, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Sankey, of course, didn’t address that fact because it didn’t fit his narrative. Think of the kids, he said. Meanwhile, Ole Miss has been charged with 28 NCAA violations, 13 of which have come from the football team, and Tennessee is facing a lawsuit from six women who claim that the university — and its football program in particular — create a culture that enables sexual assault by student athletes. Guess who has been silent about thinking of the kids in these situations thus far? You guessed it, Sankey.

Greg Sankey

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey petitioned the NCAA to ban spring break trips (Mark Humphrey, Times Free Press)

The conference that Sankey inherited from Mike Slive a year ago, and has been a part of for over 13 years, has faced numerous major infractions in the past six years, but hasn’t received more than a slap on the wrist since Mississippi State was stripped of scholarships and banned from postseason play in 2004. Sankey, coincidentally, serves on the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which he has chaired since 2014.

But the disagreements with Harbaugh’s Spring Break trip aren’t limited to the SEC. Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford joined the fray on a Thursday interview on Sirius XM College Sports.

“It is creative,” Swofford said. “It’s kind of like we’re going to take you on vacation but you’ve got to practice while we’re on vacation … it’s a huge intrusion on a college student’s life and taking his ability to have a break out of his hands. I guess it depends on how you look at it.”

All of a sudden the commissioners of the two conferences that make up the southeastern United States — where a large portion of the nation’s top recruits year in and year out reside — are worried about student athletes. Yet Swoffod’s conference has been littered with NCAA sanctions in recent years from Miami to North Carolina to Georgia Tech to Florida State to Syracuse basketball, and most recently, Louisville basketball.

“I’m not concerned about the league’s image,” he said.

Well as long as the league’s image is intact, who cares that Jameis Winston’s actions were swept under the rug while he lead the Seminoles to a national championship? Who cares that over 1,000 student athletes from the North Carolina football and basketball programs received extra benefits and were involved in academic fraud? It’s all about the kids, remember?

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford speaks at the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford speaks at the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

College basketball teams regularly travel to holiday tournaments in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Bahamas during winter break. College baseball, softball, golf, swimming, and gymnastics teams regularly travel south in the spring to open their seasons in the sun. And college football itself eschews winter break in favor of traveling south or west for a week of practice culminating with a bowl game. The student athletes’ winter breaks were further consumed by football when college football expanded to the College Football Playoff in 2014. Where were Sankey’s and Swofford’s protests when Florida State and Alabama student athletes missed out on a week of a break before spring semester began?

Just last month, Clemson, a school from Swofford’s conference, was granted an NCAA waiver to practice more than the 20-hour a week limit. Why? Because their opponent, Alabama, hadn’t yet begun spring semester and thus, wasn’t bound by the practice limits. Where were Sankey’s and Swofford’s concern for the students’ time then?

The argument for the welfare of the kids is the easy one, the political one, to make. Because it gives the appearance — even if dishonest — that his main concern is based on academics. But it’s not the real one. While Sankey denies that he’s trying to protect his conference’s built-in competitive advantage of most of the nation’s top recruits residing in their schools’ back yards, that’s exactly what his argument is about. The reality is that Harbaugh is out-thinking and out-working his coaches and he doesn’t want to be caught flat footed.

Harbaugh often turns to Twitter to issue quotes and thoughts of the day that give a glimpse into his line of thought. An old Irish proverb comes to mind for this situation.

You will never plough a field if you only turn it over in your mind.

It’s possible that Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have had ideas similar to the Summer Swarm tour or Signing of the Stars or destination spring practices. Whether they have or not, they haven’t put them into practice. In just over a year on the job, Harbaugh has, and it’s allowing him to quickly make up ground on his counterparts.

He took a sinking, 5-7 team and doubled its win total, culminating with a 41-7 thrashing of SEC East champion, Florida. He followed that up by signing a top-five recruiting class that includes the top overall player in the nation, Rashan Gary, who included Clemson and Alabama among his final choices. The roster Harbaugh inherited in 2015 was the least talented he will have during his tenure in Ann Arbor, and his continued success on the field will breed success on the recruiting trail. Snakey, Swofford, and the coaches of the schools they preside over want to do everything they can to preserve their own success.

Harbaugh hasn’t broken the rules. He’s just a step ahead of the rest and forcing them to try to change the rules in order to keep up. And soon enough it will pay off, which is why, not only is he the target of commissioners pleading the NCAA to slow him down, but also other coaches spreading rumors about him to recruits and their families. Gary’s mother, Jennifer Coney, said as much after her son picked Michigan.

“That was a turn off,” Coney said of the negative recruiting. “Bring your program up. Tell me about all the good things that your program, your school, and the people on your staff do. Don’t kick this person in the back.  Nobody likes Michigan. Nooobody likes Michigan.  When Rashan picked Michigan, my phone stopped ringing. It was a blessing.”

Fellow defensive tackle commit Michael Dwumfor, who flipped from Penn State to Michigan in late January, agreed.

“When I was at Penn State, I heard jokes about Harbaugh and stuff like that,” Dwumfour said. “In the back of my head, I’m thinking ‘What he’s doing is working, obviously. Instead of criticizing him, you might want to take some of his techniques to try and help yourself out and get some recruits.’”

The SEC, ACC, and coaches within his own conference — who, not-so-coincidentally, came from the SEC — can say all they want, but Harbaugh will continue pushing the limits within the rule book to succeed in the cutthroat world of college football. And if they don’t match his enthusiasm, work ethic, and imagination, it won’t be long before they are dethroned.

That brings another Irish proverb to mind.

It is not the same to go to the king’s house as to come from it.

Michigan 41 – Florida 7: Wolverines smoke Gators for 10th win

Monday, January 4th, 2016


Michigan vs Florida(MGoBlue.com)

Prior to Friday’s Citrus Bowl, Michigan’s offense had surpassed 500 yards just once all season, in a 48-41 double-overitme win at Indiana. Prior to Friday’s Citrus Bowl, Florida’s defense, which ranked sixth nationally, allowing 295.4 yards per game, hadn’t surrendered 500 yards to anyone. On Friday, Michigan’s offense racked up 503 yards, scoring on seven of nine possessions, en route to a 41-7 blowout of the SEC East champion Gators.

UM-Florida-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Florida
Score 41 7
Record 10-3 (6-2) 10-4 (7-1)
Total Yards 503 273
Net Rushing Yards 225 118
Net Passing Yards 278 155
First Downs 28 14
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 4-30 7-66
Punts-Yards 1-57 4-216
Time of Possession 38:38 21:22
Third Down Conversions 9-of-12 7-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 2-24 0-0
Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-7 1-of-3
Red Zone Scores-TDs 4-of-7 1-of-3
Full Box Score

After a month to prepare, Michigan turned in its most complete performance of the season, thoroughly dominating Florida to achieve the 27th 10-plus win season in the program’s 136 year history.

Both teams entered the contest boasting top-10 defenses, leading most to believe the game would be a low-scoring affair. But it was Michigan’s defense that lived up to its billing, holding Florida to just 273 total yards and seven points. The Gators managed 118 rushing yards on 27 carries, and Florida quarterback Treon Harris completed just eight of 21 passes for 146 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception.

Florida opened its whole bag of tricks, trying a fake field goal, a fake punt, a flea flicker, and a play that included a direct snap to the running back, reverse to the receiver, pass to the quarterback. Only the latter produced a positive result for the Gators, resulting in their only touchdown of the game.

Michigan, meanwhile, didn’t need trick plays; simply a sound, fundamental football. Jake Rudock completed 20 of 31 pass attempts for 278 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Even with the game well in hand in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh left him in to the end, a fitting tribute to the grad-year senior who transferred from Iowa and improved his chances of being drafted this April from none to, well, a chance.

Jehu Chesson continued his rise from seldom-used contributor to star in the making. The redshirt junior caught five passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, torching Vernon Hargreaves, who most believe to be a first-round draft pick in a few months.

De’Veon Smith eclipsed 100 yards for the first time since a Week 4 win over BYU, rushing for 109 yards on 25 carries. Drake Johnson and Sione Houma also ran well, notching a touchdown apiece. Johnson added a receiving score as well.

It was a fitting end to Harbaugh’s first season at the helm, sending off a small but important senior group, and setting up great expectations entering the offseason, with a thorough beatdown of a good SEC team.

Michigan and Florida entered in very similar positions — better than expected seasons under first-year head coaches. But Friday’s Citrus Bowl left the two on divergent paths nine months before they step on the field again and shows which coach has his team in better position.

Michigan has some holes to fill next season — namely at quarterback, center, and linebacker — but with nearly everyone returning, and a likely Top 10 preseason ranking, expectations should be through the roof. But before we get there, we get a 41-7 win over the SEC East champion to hang our hat on all offseason.

Game Ball – Offense

Jake Rudock (20 of 31 for 278 yards, 3 TDs, 4 carries for 29 yards)
In his final game as a collegiate athlete, Jake Rudock went out the same way he did in his final game of high school: a champion in Citrus Bowl Stadium. The St. Thomas Aquinas product and Iowa transfer capped his career with a remarkable performance against the nation’s 11th-best pass defense with at least two future NFL draft picks in the secondary. He looked night and day different from the beginning of the season when many Michigan fans questioned whether or not he was the right man for the job. By the end of the game, one would be hard pressed to find a single Michigan fan who didn’t wish Rudock had one more year of eligibility. He moved into second place in school history in single season passing yards with 3,017 and became the first Michigan quarterback to pass for more than 250 yards in five consecutive games.

Previous:
Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 receptions for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)
Week 6 — Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson
Week 7 — Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (4 carries for 16 yards, 1 TD, 1 punt return for 41 yards, 1 kick return for 43 yards)
Week 9 — Jake Rudock (18 of 25 for 337 yards, 2 TDs, 1 carry for 4 yards, 1 TD)
Week 10 — Jake Rudock (33 of 46 for 440 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 7 carries for 64 yards)
Week 11 — Jake Rudock (25 of 38 for 256 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT)
Week 12 — Jehu Chesson (8 receptions for 111 yards, 1 TD)

Game Ball – Defense

Chris Wormley (4 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack)
This was a tough one as the entire defense played well and essentially shut down Florida’s offense. Joe Bolden said after the game when asked if he was surprised that Florida only scored seven points, that he was surprised that the did score seven points. That’s the mentality of a great defense, and it started with the defensive front. Chris Wormley was unblockable for the Florida offensive line and recorded four tackles, two-and-a-half tackles for loss, and a sack.

Previous:
Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Week 6 — Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)
Week 7 — Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
Week 8 — James Ross (9 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 9 — Chris Wormley (4 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks)
Week 10 — Delano Hill (10 tackles, 8 solo, 1 PBU)
Week 11 — Taco Charlton (4 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks)
Week 12 — Jourdan Lewis (6 tackles, 5 solo, 1 TFL, 1 sack)

Final Individual Stats
Passing Comp-Att Yds Avg. TD INT Long Sack
Jake Rudock 20-31 278 9.0 3 0 45 0
Treon Harris 8-21 146 7.0 0 1 27 2
Josh Grady 1-2 7 3.5 0 0 7 0
Antonio Callaway (WR) 1-1 2 2.0 1 0 2 0
Johnny Townsend (P) 0-1 1 0.0 0 0 1 0
Rushing Car. Yards Avg. TD Long
De’Veon Smith 25 109 4.4 0 24
Drake Johnson 6 58 9.7 1 17
Treon Harris (QB) 11 55 5.0 0 22
Kelvin Taylor 11 50 4.5 0 21
Seone Houma 9 32 3.6 1 8
Jake Rudock (QB) 4 29 7.3 0 14
Jordan Conkrite 3 17 5.7 0 8
Taven Bryan (DL) 1 -1 -1.0 0 -1
Josh Grady (QB) 1 -3 -3.0 0 -3
Receiving Rec Yds Avg. TD Long
Jehu Chesson 5 118 23.6 1 45
Antonio Callaway 5 75 26.0 0 26
Grant Perry 5 51 10.2 1 24
Jake Butt (TE) 3 34 11.3 0 12
Brandon Powell 1 26 26.0 0 26
Khalid Hill 1 24 24.0 0 24
Amara Darboh 2 24 12.0 0 17
Chris Thompson 1 20 20.0 0 20
Ian Bunting (TE) 1 17 17.0 0 17
Demarcus Robinson 1 17 17.0 0 17
Jordan Cronkrite (RB) 1 15 15.0 0 15
Drake Johnson (RB) 2 10 5.0 1 8
Treon Harris (QB) 1 2 2.0 1 2
De’Veon Smith (RB) 1 0 0.0 0 0
Kicking FG Pct Long XP Pts
Kenny Allen 2/2 100.0 25 5/5 11
Neil MacInnes 0/0 0.0 0 1/1 1
Punting No Yds Avg TB In 20 Long
Johnny Townsend 4 216 54.0 0 0 61
Kenny Allen 1 57 57.0 1 0 57
Kick Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Antonio Callaway 3 79 26.3 37 0
Vernon Hargreaves 2 38 19.0 25 0
Brandon Powell 2 36 18.0 19 0
Jehu Chesson 1 28 28.0 28 0
Punt Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Amara Darboh 1 11 11.0 11 0

M&GB staff predictions: Florida

Friday, January 1st, 2016


StaffPicks_banner2015

Michigan looks to kick off 2016 with its 10th win of the season against Florida in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. The SEC East champions are 10-3, but coming off back to back losses. Here are our picks.

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan Florida
Justin 23 17
Derick 20 12
Sam 24 15
Josh 10 13
Joe 27 20
M&GB Average 21 15

A matchup of two of the top defenses in college football calls for a low scoring affair and I think that will hold true. Michigan will have trouble running the ball, which isn’t a surprise after the last few games, but will need to find success through the air against Hargreaves and Tabor. That’s not an easy task, but Michigan’s passing game grew leaps and bounds as the season went on. If Jabrill Peppers is healthy enough to play, expect him to play a similar role to what he did against Ohio State, giving the offense another dynamic playmaker.

Defensively, Michigan will need to slow down Taylor on the ground, but shouldn’t be too worried about Harris beating them through the air. Ohio State’s offense this is not. Nor is it Indiana’s, and those are really the only two offenses that gave Michigan’s defense fits this season.

Michigan has the advantage on special teams, especially if it becomes a game of field goals, so I give Michigan the slight edge to pull this one out and carry momentum into the offseason.

Michigan 23 – Florida 17

Derick

Michigan 20 – Florida 12

Sam

Michigan 24 – Florida 15

Josh

I’m traveling tomorrow and Saturday so I won’t be watching any of the games until at least Sunday…if you could refrain from any season ending emails until Sunday I’d appreciate it!

I’ll keep this short and sweet. These teams are so similar its eery. Both had elite defenses early on, then both faded at the end. Neither have much of an offense, though Michigan has the edge there. Both are under first year coaches who’ve miraculously turned losers into winners. I give Florida the edge in pure athletes on the roster but Michigan has a HUGE edge in coaching. Losing Will Grier has really hurt the Florida offense but without Jabrill Peppers on the field I see the pendulum swing back towards a slight edge when Michigan is on defense, but only a slight one.

Florida won’t score much, even if Peppers isn’t out there but what really worries me is Michigan’s offense versus that Florida defense which boasts an incredible talent in cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, along with others that are just plain higher caliber athletes than Michigan has. Without any semblance of a run game Michigan is likely to air it out with Rudock. And that’s all well and good, but this is the best defense they’ll have faced all year with NFL-caliber players, color me concerned.

Neither offense will be scoring many points so for me this comes down to special teams play, with the rumors going around that Blake O’Neill might be out that takes away a huge advantage for Michigan in the field position game. I’m 50/50 on this game but after seeing Michigan only manage 13 points against OSU and with them facing a better defense in Florida, in what is essentially a home game, along with no O’Neill I have trouble picking Michigan to reach 10 wins.

It’s a close, boring and low-scoring game, but Florida edges out Michigan in the end and ruins the shot for a doubling up of last year’s win total.

Michigan 10 – Florida 13

Joe

Here we are. The final game of a very exciting first season for coach Harbaugh is upon us and should end in an entertaining battle.  I’m not sure if Peppers us playing, but I’m guessing he will be out for this one. We’d have heard otherwise by now if he was playing. I still think the D had enough to hold the Gator offense to less than 21 pts. The Rudock led Wolverines week out up some points early and let the D line go hunting. I think we end on a high note and head into the off-season with a bowl victory.

Michigan 27 – Florida 20

First Look: Florida

Monday, December 28th, 2015


Gator

After a month-long break, Michigan hits the field for one last time this season on Friday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. The Wolverines have a chance to win 10 games in a season for just the fourth time since 2000, as well as a chance to pick up another win over an SEC foe. Michigan faces Florida, a program that has had a very similar past year with an underachieving 2014 that led to the firing of their coach, and then a resurgence under their new coach. Let’s take a look at the Gators.

Florida team stats & Michigan comparison
Florida | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 24.5 | 30.6 98 57
16.5 17.2 8 11
Rushing Yards 1,659 1,832 1,568 1,471
Rush Avg. Per Game 127.6 152.7 113 92
120.6 122.6 17 18
Avg. Per Rush 3.4 | 4.1
3.4 3.6
Passing Yards 2,744 2,812 2,272 1,905
Pass Avg. Per Game 211.1 234.3 78 54 174.8 158.8 11 3
Total Offense 4,403 4,644 3,840 3,376
Total Off Avg. Per Game 338.7 387.0 109 72 295.4 281.3 6 4
Kick Return Average 20.8 28.4 72 3 20.24 20.21 43 | 41
Punt Return Average 13.9 11.4 11 31 3.7 11.5 17 96
Avg. Time of Possession 31:43 | 33:02 29 | 13
28:17 | 26:58
3rd Down Conversion Pct 35.0% | 44.0% 103 26
31.0% | 26.0% 12 | 3
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 43-250 | 18-95
121 | T37
40-294 | 30-226
9 | T34
Touchdowns Scored 43 45
25 | 23
Field Goals-Attempts 7-17 16-20
13-18 | 15-18
Red Zone Scores (33-48) 69%|(46-49) 94% 123 6
(25-32) 78%|(26-31) 84% 30 69
Red Zone Touchdowns (28-48) 58%|(33-49) 67% (15-32) 47%|(13-31) 42%

Florida is very similar to Michigan statistically. Both feature one of the nation’s top defenses and middling offenses. Florida is slightly better in scoring defense, allowing 16.5 points per game compared to Michigan’s 17.2. The Ohio State game hurt Michigan in that regard, dropping the Wolverines from sixth nationally to 11th. While Michigan let OSU score 42 points and also gave up 41 to Indiana, Florida allowed more than 30 points just once all season, a 35-28 loss to LSU. However, the Gators didn’t record a shutout and Michigan posted three straight early in the season.

Both teams’ rushing defenses are about the same with Florida allowing two fewer yards per game on the ground. Only three teams eclipsed 200 yards rushing against the Gators, Tennessee with 254, LSU with 221, and Alabama with 233. Alabama’s Derrick Henry likely locked up the Heisman trophy with a 44-carry, 189-yard performance against Florida in the SEC Championship game. LSU’s Leonard Fornett, a Heisman candidate for most of the season, tallied 180 yards on 31 carries against the Gators, while Tennessee had two 100-yard rushers — quarterback Joshua Dobbs (136) and running back Jalen Hurd (102). Unfortunately, Michigan’s rushing game isn’t poised to have as much success on the ground.

Florida’s pass defense, however, is slightly more susceptible, though still ranking among the nation’s best. The Gators rank 11th nationally, allowing 16 more passing yards per game than Michigan. Four opponents topped 200 yards passing, led by East Carolina’s 346 in Week 2. The best passing offense Florida faced all season, Ole Miss, threw for 259 yards. Florida’s corners, Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor, form one of the nation’s best duos and will be a tough match for Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh.

Offensively, Florida isn’t nearly as scary. They’re fairly similar statistically to where Penn State and Minnesota were when Michigan faced them this season — in the bottom third nationally in most categories. They score just 24.5 points per game, six fewer than Michigan. A 61-13 throttling of New Mexico State in the season opener inflated the average as the Gators topped 30 points just twice the rest of the way, a 31-24 win over East Carolina the following week and a 38-10 win over Ole Miss in Week 5. Since then, Florida has averaged just 18.3 points in their final eight games. They managed just nine points in a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt, then were held to a measly two in a 27-2 loss to rival Florida State.

The running game is even more nonexistent than Michigan’s, averaging 25 fewer yards per game. The Gators’ best output was a 258-yard performance against Georgia — one of only two times they cracked 200 yards. The other was in the opener against NMSU. They were held below 100 yards four times, most recently 15 yards on 21 carries in the SEC title game against Alabama. Only 14 teams nationally average fewer yards per game than Florida, none of which Michigan faced. The closest, BYU, ranks one spot ahead of Florida, and Michigan held the Cougars to just 50 yards on 22 carries.

The passing game is slightly better, but it was more dynamic under Will Grier, who completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in the first six games before being suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Sophomore Treon Harris replaced him, but has completed just 49.2 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and five picks since then. He threw for 271 yards in his first start against LSU, but managed 200 yards just once in the final six games. Alabama’s defense held him to just 9-of-24 for 165 yards.

As far as intangibles go, Florida converts just 35 percent of its third downs (103rd nationally) compared to Michigan’s 44 percent. They also have allowed 43 sacks — more than all but six teams nationally. For perspective, Penn State has allowed 39. The Gators gave up five sacks in a game five times, including each of the last three, and allowed three or more sacks in eight of 13 games. On the flip side, the Gators rank 12th nationally in third down defense (31 percent) and ninth nationally with 40 sacks — 10 more than Michigan’s defense has recorded.

On special teams, Florida is an average 72nd in kick returns, averaging eight fewer yards per return than Michigan. However, they are dynamic in the punt return game, averaging 13.9 yards per returns. They’ve returned two punts for touchdowns this season. The Gators are also solid against punt returns, allowing just 3.7 yards per, which ranks 11th nationally. If the game comes down to the kicking game, Michigan should have the advantage as Florida has made just 7-of-17 field goals with a long of 43, and has missed the last five attempts. Three of those 10 misses have been blocked.

Overall, it should be a pretty even game with two great defenses and two average offenses. Michigan has the advantage offensively, but will have to be able to have at least some success on the ground against a very stingy rush defense. It should be a low scoring game, but regardless of the outcome, it’s two tradition-rich programs on the rise and it’s exciting to be playing on New Year’s Day once again.

Michigan’s potential bowl matchups

Sunday, December 6th, 2015


Citrus Bowl

The last 12 months have been a roller coaster ride for the University of Michigan in terms of bowl aspirations. After dropping its final two games in 2014, the Wolverines failed to qualify for postseason play for the third time in seven years. Fast forward to just over a week ago, and Jim Harbaugh’s team had an outside chance to land in the College Football Playoff.

But after being blown out at home by Ohio State and finishing the season at 9-3, the 2015 Wolverines sit somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Michigan’s resume is impressive, but the Big Ten is loaded with elite teams at the top.

Michigan State will move on to the final four while Iowa and Ohio State will land in New Year’s Six bowls – likely the Rose Bowl and an at-large bid.

Once those three top 10 teams are placed, Michigan and Northwestern are the remaining ranked teams in the conference. So how does it work from there? Since the Orange Bowl is hosting one of the national semifinal (playoff) games, the Big Ten will send a team to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

I think the Citrus Bowl is Michigan’s most likely destination, though the Big Ten has to approve the bowl’s request before anything is finalized. Formerly the Capital One Bowl, the Citrus Bowl is an upper-tier bowl that pits a Big Ten school against an SEC school.

Potential Citrus Bowl matchups

Florida vs. Michigan: Since the Gators couldn’t upset the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game, Alabama will move on to the College Football Playoff and leave Florida as the top non-final four team in the conference. Florida’s Cinderella season lost most of its steam when starting quarterback Will Grier was suspended for using a banned substance. In the final four weeks of the regular season, Florida nearly lost to Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic before getting crushed and failing to score on offense against Florida State. Though the Gators did win the East, they aren’t trending in a direction that will make them a sexy bowl pick. But if these teams do meet, it would be a rematch of Lloyd Carr’s last game as Michigan’s coach, when the Wolverines won an entertaining shootout over Tim Tebow and the Gators.

Ole Miss vs. Michigan: Mississippi got dumped by Florida, 38-10, back in October, but the final few weeks of the season could give the Rebels a leg up on the Gators in the bowl selection process. Ole Miss has a road win over Alabama on its resume, the crowned jewel on an otherwise average resume. The Rebels lost to Memphis and Arkansas but picked up a pair of solid wins over LSU and Mississippi State to close out the season. Michigan has struggled to stop the run since losing Ryan Glasgow from the defensive line, but Ole Miss is led by quarterback Chad Kelly, who would meet one of the best secondary units in the country in this matchup.

If Michigan isn’t picked for the Citrus Bowl, it would likely head about 100 miles southwest to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. The Outback Bowl will host five different Big Ten teams from 2014-2019, so Michigan could land here for the second time in four seasons. The Wolverines lost a shootout with South Carolina in the Outback Bowl under Brady Hoke on Jan. 1, 2013. Like the Citrus Bowl, the Outback Bowl would match Michigan up with an SEC team.

Potential Outback Bowl matchups

LSU vs. Michigan: The Les Miles vs. Michigan storyline would give this matchup a little extra steam, but LSU was dreadful during the second half of the season. Three straight blowouts at the hands of Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss proved that if you can stop running back Leonard Fournette, you can roll past the Tigers.

Mississippi State vs. Michigan: If this matchup brings back bad memories for Michigan fans, that’s because Mississippi State was responsible for putting the nail in the coffin to send Rich Rodriguez out of Ann Arbor. It took Michigan three seasons to make a bowl game under Rich Rod, and when it did, the Bulldogs smashed the Wolverines 52-14 in the Gator Bowl.

Georgia vs. Michigan: I really don’t see this happening, because Georgia would have to be selected above some of the much more impressive teams in the SEC West, but the Bulldogs did finish second in the East. Though Georgia won nine games and reportedly hired Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to replace Mark Richt, this team might be a bit of a mess in the bowl game.

The only other potential landing spot for Michigan would likely be the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The Holiday Bowl is the final top-tier bowl game with a Big Ten tie, and it would give Michigan a chance to play a Pac-12 team.

Potential Holiday Bowl matchups

USC vs. Michigan: USC put up a bit of a fight against Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but the Trojans finished the disappointing season with five losses. At times, like in a runaway win over Utah, USC’s elite talent shone through and it looked nearly unbeatable. But Pat Hayden’s crew is very hit-or-miss, especially after a month of preparation.

Oregon vs. Michigan: This is definitely not a matchup Michigan wants to see. With Vernon Adams back healthy at quarterback, Oregon’s offense is rolling and the Ducks are extremely dangerous. Michigan would have to win a shootout to win this matchup, a tall task against a team like Oregon.

The College Football Selection Show will air on ESPN at 12:30pm Eastern time today, beginning with the playoff teams and pairings. The rest of the New Year’s Six bowl pairings will be announced along with the rest of the Top 25. Michigan will know its destination and opponent by this evening, so stay tuned for a preview.

Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional – Tennessee edition

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


Tennessee post-Mercer win(Wade Rackley, UT Athletics)

Yesterday, “Inside the Numbers” provided a historical analysis of Michigan’s extraordinary success in the Sweet Sixteen. It was a fun post that allowed Michigan fans to reminisce and hope that the good times will continue to roll this weekend. However, with Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen contest only two days away, it is time to start looking ahead at the obstacles that stand between Michigan and a trip to a second straight Final Four.

This weekend, there will be three teams traveling to the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis along with No. 2-seed Michigan: No. 4-seed Louisville, No. 8-seed Kentucky, and No. 11-seed Tennessee. The Wolverines will battle the Volunteers on Friday night in the Sweet Sixteen. If the Wolverines defeat Tennessee, they will then play the winner of the Louisville-Kentucky matchup in the Elite Eight.

It is important to note the difficulty of maneuvering through this regional. Many fans may see that the other three teams in the Midwest Regional are only a No. 4 seed, No. 8 seed, and No. 11 seed and think that this will be a cakewalk for No. 2-seed Michigan. This would be foolish. All three of these schools are much better than their seeds indicate. In fact, advanced statistics show that the Midwest Regional is the toughest remaining regional of the four.

KenPom Rankings by Region

All four teams in the Midwest Regional are ranked in the top 13 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, which use an advanced algorithm to rank teams based on their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Every other region has at least two teams ranked outside Pomeroy’s top 15. Further, the average Pomeroy rank of the Midwest Regional is 8.00, while it is 11.50 for the West Regional, 12.75 for the East Regional, and 22.50 for the South Regional. Michigan’s path to the Final Four is far from a cakewalk.

With the groundwork set that the Midwest Regional is the toughest to win of the four regionals, here is an in-depth scouting report of Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen opponent, Tennessee, in Part One. Part Two, which will be posted later today, will include in-depth scouting reports of Michigan’s potential opponents in the Elite Eight, Louisville and Kentucky, should U-M defeat UT.

Tennessee: 24-12 (11-7 SEC) | Seed: No. 11 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 6

Overview: Tennessee is weird. On one hand, Tennessee lost double-digit games in the regular season and finished with an 11-7 record in the nation’s fifth-best conference. This led to the Volunteers being a No. 11 seed and one of the last four bubble teams to make the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, the computers are infatuated with Tennessee. The Volunteers are No. 6 in the nation in Pomeroy’s rankings and actually projected by Pomeroy to beat Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen despite the discrepancy in seeds. How is this possible? The “Resume” section below will attempt to answer.

The difference in Tennessee’s seed and Pomeroy rank make it very difficult to peg just how good the Volunteers are. Is Tennessee actually the sixth-best team in the nation? Probably not. But the Volunteers certainly are playing some of their best basketball at the moment. After upending an underrated No. 11-seed Iowa in overtime in the First Four, Tennessee steamrolled No. 6-seed Massachusetts by 19 points and No. 14-seed Mercer by 20 points to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

Resume: 1-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 2-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 11-9 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; three Losses to Pomeroy Sub-100

The reason why Tennessee barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament is that the Volunteers have a very poor record against the best teams in the nation. Prior to the NCAA Tournament, Tennessee had a 1-5 record against both the top 25 and top 50 of Pomeroy’s rankings. The Volunteers did not add that second top 50 win until they beat Iowa in the First Four. Three of those losses came at the hands of the Florida Gators, which are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, with the other two against Wichita State and Kentucky. Additionally, Tennessee has three bad losses to teams ranked outside Pomeroy’s top 100, which includes being swept by Texas A&M and a road loss to Vanderbilt.

Yet Tennessee is still No. 6 in Pomeroy’s rankings because of the margin of victory in its games. Tennessee’s lone top 50 win prior to the NCAA Tournament was a 35-point smack down of No. 1-seed Virginia. Also, in SEC play, the Volunteers’ efficiency margin was plus-0.135 points per possession, which was second in the SEC. For comparison, Michigan’s efficiency margin in Big Ten play was plus-0.107 points per possession. Yes, the Big Ten was far superior to the SEC, but Tennessee’s efficiency margin indicates that UT won its games in blowout fashion while losing many down-to-the-wire contests.

Four Factors:

Tennessee Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Tennessee has the 16th-best offense in the nation in terms of adjusted efficiency and has shown why in the NCAA Tournament. In its three NCAA Tournament games, the Volunteers have scored no less than 78 points in each one, averaging a superb 1.286 points per possession in all three.

However, Tennessee is an average shooting team at best. UT is ranked only No. 170 in the nation in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) with an eFG% of 49.6 percent. This is because the Volunteers, like Texas, are a poor three-point shooting team. Tennessee is No. 282 in the nation in three-point shooting, making only 31.9 percent. The Volunteers have only two consistent shooters from behind the arc. The first is Jordan McRae, who has made 77-of-215 threes for a team-best 35.8 percent. The second is Josh Richardson, who has converted 34.4 percent of his threes this season. Yet Richardson has slumped from outside recently, draining only 3-of-22 (13.6 pct.) threes in his past seven games. The only other Volunteer likely to shoot from three-point range is Antonio Barton, who has attempted 141 threes this season. But Barton has made just a tad more than 32 percent of them, so he is not nearly as dangerous as the other two.

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This is why Tennessee is most efficient offensively when it tries to work the ball inside to its best player, Jarnell Stokes. Stokes is UT’s 6’8″ center who is a beast around the basket. About 50 percent of Stokes’ shots are either at the rim, meaning they are dunks, layups, or tips, while the other 50 percent are two-point jumpers. However, in this case, two-point jumpers are short shots about three to six feet from the hoop, not 15-foot pull-up shots. Stokes is very efficient around the basket, too. His eFG% at the rim is 68.5 percent. Expect Tennessee to feed Stokes—who is averaging 20.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament—in the post early and often.

However, Tennessee’s low-post offense is not even its biggest offensive strength. Like Texas, the Volunteers’ offense thrives on crashing the glass. The Volunteers are the fourth-best offensive-rebounding team in the nation, corralling 39.8 percent of their missed shots. In their last game against Mercer, the Volunteers rebounded 18 of their 30 misses for an absurd offensive rebounding rate of 60 percent. Most of UT’s offensive rebounding comes from it two starting post players—Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Both Stokes and Maymon are in the top 30 in the nation in individual offensive rebounding. In UT’s three NCAA Tournament games, Stokes and Maymon have averaged a combined seven offensive rebounds per game. Expect those two to be all over the glass on Friday night.

Unlike Texas, Tennessee plays at very slow pace similar to Michigan. The Volunteers’ adjusted tempo is only 62.8 possessions, which is the 325th-fastest out of 351 NCAA D-1 college hoops teams. Tennessee, which has a very short bench, likes to be patient and set up its half-court offense. Only 21.8 percent of UT’s initial shots are in transition, which is No. 260 in the nation. The Volunteers are not looking to run their opponents. They would much rather run down the shot clock and beat their opponents with execution and brute force.

Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon both rank in the top 30 nationally in offensive rebounding (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon both rank in the top 30 nationally in offensive rebounding (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Defensive Profile: Tennessee also is an excellent team on defense as well, ranking No. 18 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Volunteers allowed SEC opponents to score only 0.973 points per possession and have held their three NCAA Tournament opponents to 1.016 points per possession. The key to Tennessee’s defense is that it is very balanced and very good at many different things.

The heart of Tennessee’s defense is inside the paint. Like Texas, the Volunteers do a fantastic job at holding opponents to a subpar shooting percentage from inside the three-point line. Teams have been able to convert only 44.3 percent of their two-pointers against the Volunteers. However, unlike Texas, Tennessee does not do this by jumping at and trying to block every shot around the rim. The Volunteers are very adept at maintaining their ground while contesting two-pointers. This allows Tennessee to rebound 72.5 percent of its opponents’ missed shots, which is 18th-best in the nation, and rarely send opponents to the free-throw line.

Another critical difference between Tennessee and Texas’ defense is that the Volunteers are much, much better at contesting opponents’ three-pointers. Only 27.3 percent of Tennessee’s opponents’ field-goal attempts have been threes. This is the 22nd-lowest rate in the nation. Teams have struggled to launch threes against Tennessee because of the length of its perimeter players. UT’s guards and wings are 6’6″, 6’6″, and 6’2″. These Volunteers use their length to quickly get out on three-point shooters, making it difficult for opponents to find open looks around the three-point line.

One element of Tennessee’s defense that opponents are not concerned with is turnovers. The Volunteers struggle to force their opponents to commit turnovers, forcing them to do so only 16.8 percent of their offensive possessions. Given the strengths of the rest of UT’s defense, it is imperative that UT’s opponents do not commit unforced errors against this defense. Otherwise, those opponents will run into a buzz saw.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: After reading this preview, one may think that Tennessee is the favorite to win the national championship. Obviously, this is not the case. The Volunteers have very good numbers, but they have not been able to record these types of numbers consistently against elite competition, like the Wolverines. Michigan’s skill and talent level will provide many challenges for this Volunteers squad.

There are two keys for Michigan, and both are on the defensive end. Michigan has the third-best offense in the nation and has proven time and time again that it can score against the best of the best. But Michigan will need to win this game on the defensive end of the court.

First, Michigan needs to pack the paint defensively. Tennessee scores most of its points around the bucket and struggles with its perimeter shooting. By packing the paint, the Wolverines will clog up the spacing inside that Stokes will need to operate effectively. Plus, this will tempt the Volunteers’ outside shooters to fire away. This could be very beneficial for Michigan when Richardson has not been able to find his shot from beyond the arc in his past seven games and when Barton loves to chuck from three-point range despite not being very efficient from there.

Second, by packing this paint, this will make it much more difficult for the Volunteers to crash the offensive glass. All five of Michigan’s players will be closer to the rim when Tennessee’s shots go into the air. This will allow the Wolverines to find a Volunteer to box out much easier and help limit Stokes and Maymon’s second-chance opportunities. If Michigan can limit Tennessee’s possessions to one-and-done, U-M will take away the most effective element of UT’s offense. Therefore, it is imperative that Jordan Morgan keeps Stokes at bay and Glenn Robinson III boxes out Maymon on a consistent basis. If this happens, Michigan likely will walk away as the victors.

Part Two of the Midwest Regional Preview on Louisville and Kentucky will be posted later today.

It was that a coach didn’t have confidence in his defense

Thursday, December 27th, 2012


Michigan and South Carolina don’t share a field very often, though both programs have been around since the late nineteenth century. Likely it was distance, along with different conference play, and the Big Ten’s love of playing Pac-10 schools that makes this only the third meeting between the Gamecocks and the Wolverines.

The only other two meetings were played in the eighties, when Bo was still the head coach at Michigan and Jim Carlen (1980) and Joe Morrison (’85) were calling the shots at S.C. The second matchup was more or less a blowout by the Wolverines, but the inaugural meeting was one to remember, though it’s likely that the Maize and Blue offer their remembrances with a rather imposing garnish of sour grapes.

1980: South Carolina 17 – Michigan 14

Anthony Carter caught two touchdowns against South Carolina in 1980

Michigan went into the third game of the 1980 season a solid favorite against its newly acquainted southern opponent. And as expected, the Wolverines got off to a good start putting up a pair of touchdowns thanks to the sure-handed Anthony Carter. Michigan held the Gamecocks to a field goal before both teams headed for the tunnel to prepare for the second half, which was went the tides turned.

On its first possession, Michigan marched down the field to just inside the ten. Then came the blunder, a Stan Edwards fumble into the endzone recovered by South Carolina. The Gamecocks countered with a swing of their own, only they landed the blow with the help of soon to be Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers – the first in Gamecock history. Michigan 14 – South Carolina 10.

On Michigan’s next drive, Schembechler made a decision to attempt the fourth down conversion on his own 29-yard line. They were stopped short. Carolina ball. Touchdown. Game over.

Bo took the blame for the loss, saying “It was that a coach didn’t have confidence in his defense…we should have punted.”

The Wolverines would go on to win the Big Ten Championship, garner a Rose Bowl victory against Washington, and end up No. 4 in the final rankings with a 10-2 record. While Bo took the blame for not trusting his defense, the defense did not allow a single touchdown the final 22 quarters of the season. But that filed fourth down attempt that led to the Gamecocks’ winnings score and one of Michigan’s seven losses in 28 games against SEC opponents likely still has Bo turning in his grave.

1985: Michigan 34 – South Carolina 3

The second faceoff between the two teams washed some of the bitterness from the mouths of Michigan fans. Jamie Morris was the 15th-ranked Wolverines’ prolific rusher, and continued his dominance against South Carolina during his sophomore year. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh had a tremendous day also, helping the Wolverines put up 34 points. However, it was also the defense which caused two fumbles, and intercepted twice (once on the final play) to solidify the win for Michigan in Columbia.

This year will mark the first time the teams have meet in nearly thirty years, and the only time they have faced in a bowl game. Since the series is tied there is motivation on the part of both teams to take a one win advantage, but it’s more likely that both schools want show that since two of their losses came against opponents ranked No. 1 and 2 (granted the two teams the Wolverines played are now to face off in the national championship, but S.C.’s losses to LSU and Florida aren’t exactly embarrassing) the quality of their team is not to be underestimated. This should be one to mirror the 1980 struggle, not the lopsided victory five years later.

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.

We should have seen this coming

Monday, September 3rd, 2012


What seemed like a good idea two years ago and we were cautiously excited about after going 11-2 last season, was in reality a disaster from start to finish on Saturday night. Michigan forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s first drive, but it quickly went downhill from there. We all know the story. We all watched in disbelief as the snowball got bigger and bigger and became an avalanche. And then halftime mercifully came.

When all was said and done, Michigan limped away battered and bruised, both physically and mentally, and the SEC superiority was proven once again. In reality, it was just Michigan’s seventh loss all-time against current SEC teams, compared to 20 wins and one tie. Alabama fans act as if Alabama has always been superior to Michigan, but it was just six years ago that the script would have been reversed as Michigan went 11-2 and ‘Bama just 6-7.

DeAndrew White scores on Courtney Avery, a few plays after Countess was lost for the season (photo by LM Otero, AP)

But we’re talking about this year. A year in which Michigan is still rebuilding from the disaster that was the Rich Rod era. A year in which Alabama will likely win a second straight national championship, and third in four years. Entering Saturday’s game, we all underestimated the significance of losing three defensive linemen, both in performance and leadership. We all underestimated Nick Saban’s ability to turn an extra 20 recruits over a five year period into a reloading machine. We should have seen this coming. It’s not 2006 anymore.

I’ve seen many a comment since Saturday night from Michigan fans calling for Denard Robinson to switch to receiver once and for all. These are likely the same fans who tout his Heisman candidacy after each big game, and this Jekyll and Hyde mentality needs to stop. This team would not have won on Saturday with Chad Henne or John Navarre or Jim Harbaugh under center. Whether we like it or not, Denard is the quarterback this season, and provides the best chance to win. Come February 2013 we can start discussing who Michigan’s quarterback should be.

The biggest problem on Saturday night was not who the starting quarterback was; it was how he was used. Denard has never been, nor ever will be a pocket quarterback, and yet that’s how he was used from the start. It’s easy to look back and critique the game plan when all is said and done, but that recipe is doomed to burn the biscuits every time against a defense like Alabama’s.

Obviously, Michigan wanted to win the game, but in the grand scheme of the season, beating Alabama was not high priority. Beating Purdue, and Illinois, and Michigan State, and Nebraska, and Minnesota, and Northwestern, and Iowa, and Ohio State are. Winning the Big Ten is. Whether we, as fans, like it or not, maybe the game plan was as it was to keep Denard healthy for the rest of the season. The coaches will never admit as much, but could you blame them if it was? You can call that a loser’s mentality, but Michigan would not have won with Denard running 15-20 times either. So why doom the season for one game?

A game plan that involves rushing Vincent Smith into the 'Bama defensive line 13 times is doomed to fail (photo by Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

While Denard stayed relatively healthy, except for making a tackle following an interception and contorting his body trying to reach a first down, the injury bug still struck the Wolverines in a bad way. Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess was lost for the year on Michigan’s first punt of the game. Left tackle Taylor Lewan injured his right leg and his status is unknown, though he reportedly told the coaches he could go back in. Tight end Brandon Moore also left the game with an injury.

Coutness’ loss was felt immediately, as Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron went after his replacement, Courtney Avery. His loss will be a big one the rest of the season, turning a position of strength into a position of uncertainty. Lewan’s loss was also felt immediately, as on the very next play, Alabama’s D.J. Pettway ran right by Michael Schoefield, who had shifted over to left tackle, and sacked Denard – the Tide’s only sack of the night. If he’s out for an extended period of time, Michigan’s strong line will be greatly reduced.

We saw the makings of what could become a great receiver in Devin Gardner. He started slow, failing to pull in a couple of grabs and running imprecise routes, but it was against a great secondary. He did make his first touchdown grab, and the more time he plays, the better he’ll get.

We also saw a glimpse of what should be a really good kickoff returnman in freshman Dennis Norfleet. He’s an instant upgrade from last season and should help with field position.

This week, Michigan will get back Fitzgerald Toussaint who was suspended for the opener following a DUI. His return will immediately shore up the running game for the rest of the season, although had he been on the field on Saturday, the outcome would not have changed. Alabama is just that good.

All we really found out is that Alabama was far superior and that Michigan still isn’t where it needs to be to compete with the nation’s best. End of story. Eleven regular season games remain and Michigan gets a pair of should-win games against Air Force and UMass to get everything sorted out before facing a Notre Dame team that looked strong on Saturday morning. We’re still in store for a great season, and while the excitement is tempered by Saturday’s performance, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

None of the Big Ten looked great this weekend, save Ohio State and maybe Nebraska. Michigan State struggled against a greatly reduced Boise State. Penn State lost to Ohio. Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana all struggled to wins over inferior teams. Michigan gained a great learning experience from Saturday, and that should not be overlooked. The team we see the rest of the season will hardly resemble the one that took it on the chin Saturday night. Let’s forget about Alabama and set our sights on winning the Big Ten.