RUSH OFFENSE vs. SOUTH CAROLINA RUSH DEFENSE
Michigan is #40 in rush offense (186 yards/game) and #54 in yards per rush (4.51). They are led by junior Karan Higdon, who is 71 yards shy of 1,000 yards for the season (147 carries, 929 yards, 6.3 YPC, 11 TDs). Junior backup Chris Evans came on stronger during the second half of the season, and he sits at 661 yards, 5.3 YPC, and 6 TDs. Both players started their ascent during the latter half of the year, which is when the offensive line started to gel in the running game. The right side of the line will probably be totally different than the way it started the season, because right guard Michael Onwenu (replaced by Cesar Ruiz) and right tackle Nolan Ulizio (replaced by Juwann Bushell-Beatty) both struggled mightily in pass protection. Oddly enough, Bushell-Beatty has been superior in both phases, and Ruiz has been good enough in the run game that Michigan hasn’t really missed Onwenu. Michigan is #10 in Adjusted Line Yards and #9 in Power Success Rate. Defensively, South Carolina is #41 in Adjusted Line Yards and #123 in Power Success Rate, and that ALY number is their highest ranking in any of Football Outsiders’ nine categories. They are #45 in rushing defense (147 yards allowed/game) and #42 in yards per carry allowed (3.9). They are not great, but they have been very consistent, allowing anywhere from 2.54 to 4.84 yards per carry in every game. (For some perspective, Michigan has a higher ranked rushing defense but allowed opponents anywhere from 0.41 to 6.4 yards/carry.) The Gamecocks are led in tackles by 6’2″, 218 lb. senior WILL Skai Moore, who is their best overall defender with 88 tackles, 8 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 3 INTs). Sophomore MIKE T.J. Brunson (6’1″, 230 lbs.) is second with 75 tackles, and senior strong safety Chris Lammons (5’10”, 190) has 70. Sophomore weakside end D.J. Wonnum (6’4″, 251) leads the squad with 13 tackles for loss. Sometimes crazy things happen in bowl games, but the numbers suggest Michigan should be able to run the ball okay but won’t go hogwild.
Hit the jump for the rest of the preview.
PASS OFFENSE vs. SOUTH CAROLINA PASS DEFENSE
This isn’t really a question of the passing offense as a whole, but more about whether Michigan can protect quarterback Brandon Peters, who will be seeing his first game action since getting knocked out (literally) by Wisconsin in mid-November. Peters (57.8% completions, 4 TD, 0 INT) is the best QB on Michigan’s 2017 roster, even though he started off the year as the third-stringer, and original starter Wilton Speight has left the team while pursuing grad transfer opportunities. Michigan is #118 in Adjusted Sack Rate, and while they hold up decently against straight-up pass rushes, those pesky defensive coordinators keep calling these things called “stunts” which really f*** with the OL’s mojo. Michigan is #112 in passing offense (169 yards/game), #119 in passing touchdowns (9), and #111 in passing efficiency. There has been talk that freshman wide receiver Tarik Black could return from a broken foot that he suffered in the first month of the season, but despite being the best receiver early on, it would be silly for his guaranteed medical redshirt to be sacrificed for the Outback Bowl. Slot receiver Grant Perry (25 catches, 307 yards, 1 TD) and tight end Sean McKeon (29 catches, 285 yards, 3 TD) lead the team in receiving, but tight end Zach Gentry is the big-play guy (15 catches, 276 yards, 2 TD) and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (16 catches, 219 yards) is the rising star. Perry has missed some practice time this week due to injury, so that would be a blow if Michigan’s leading receiver can’t play. The Gamecocks are experienced in the secondary with three seniors and one junior starting, and nickel corner Jamyest Williams (5’9″, 174) is a freshman but the most talented player of the bunch. Moore leads the team with those 3 picks, and Williams is tied for second with 2 (the other guys with 2 picks are backups or injured). Senior cornerback Jamarcus King – from Blount High School in Eight Mile, AL – leads the squad with 12 pass breakups at 6’2″ and 186 lbs. The Gamecocks are #69 in passing defense (228 yards allowed/game) and they’re #50 in passing efficiency defense, but their 14 touchdown passes allowed is tied for #16, and they have a solid TD-to-INT rate with 12 total interceptions. Up front South Carolina runs a 3-4/4-3 hybrid, led by Buck linebacker Wonnum with those 6 sacks. Strongside end Dante Sawyer (6’3″, 275) and backup Buck Daniel Fennell (6’3″, 244) each have 3 sacks. They are #72 in Adjusted Sack Rate, #84 on standard downs, and #45 on passing downs; their pass rush should be mitigated if Michigan can stay on schedule and avoid obvious passing situations, but the pass rush isn’t imposing either way.
Advantage: South Carolina
RUSH DEFENSE vs. SOUTH CAROLINA RUSH OFFENSE
Michigan is #20 in rushing defense after falling off late in the season against a couple very good opponents, but this is a very good unit against most rushing teams. They allow 126 yards/game on the ground, and they are #28 in yards per carry defense. Middle linebacker Devin Bush, Jr. leads the team with 94 tackles, and then there are six players bunched between 59 and 74 tackles. Michigan was #1 nationally during the regular season with 103 tackles for loss, led by defensive end Chase Winovich (17.5) and linebacker Khaleke Hudson (16). In fact, Michigan had 4 of the top 8 tacklers for loss in the Big Ten (Winovich, Hudson, linebacker Mike McCray II, and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Jr.). Hurst himself is a First Team All-American and was graded out by Pro Football Focus as the highest rated player at any position in the country. South Carolina is #108 in rushing offense (127.25 yards/game) and #85 in yards per carry (4.03). They have a bit of a Thunder & Lightning thing going on with two sophomore running backs, both of whom have 92 carries on the year: the Thunder is 6’0″, 215 lb. Ty’Son Williams with 460 yards and 1 TD, and the Lightning is 5’10”, 184 lb. A.J. Turner with 517 yards and 3 TDs. Sophomore QB Jake Bentley (6’3″, 220) averages just 1.28 yards/carry on 67 total attempts, but he has 6 rushing touchdowns. Football Outsiders ranks the Gamecocks’ offensive line mostly between #40 and #76 in all six rushing categories they track, except for Opportunity Rate, where they are #29. What does that mean? It means the offensive line is decent at getting the running backs a few yards, and the running backs obviously aren’t doing a ton with it. Starting center Alan Knott is only 6’4″ and 274 lbs., and Hurst has to be licking his chops. Meanwhile, junior right tackle Zack Bailey (6’6″, 311) is a converted guard. The most productive players are redshirt junior left tackle Malik Young (6’4″, 294), a returning starter, and redshirt junior left guard Donell Stanley (6’4″, 317). This isn’t a bad unit, but Michigan’s front seven is very good-to-spectacular.
PASS DEFENSE vs. SOUTH CAROLINA PASS OFFENSE
Michigan allows the fewest passing yards in the country (142.7 per game) by a healthy margin (almost 16 yards fewer than Georgia). The passing efficiency defense is up there, too, at #3 behind Wisconsin and Alabama. The Wolverines aren’t great at creating turnovers (just 9 interceptions, which is tied for #75) or even getting their hands on passes (their 56 pass breakups tie them for #56), but the combination of a great pass rush and tight coverage produces a very good passing defense. Pro Football Focus ranked Michigan’s cornerback duo of Lavert Hill (24 tackles, 7 PBU, 2 INT) and David Long (21 tackles, 4 PBU, 2 INT) as one of the top combos in the country. Michigan’s defensive line is #2 in Adjusted Sack Rate, led by Winovich (8), Hudson (7), and four players with 5 each. The relative weak points are the safeties and weakside linebacker McCray, who often gets targeted on wheel routes out of the backfield. South Carolina is #80 in passing offense (212.9 yards/game) and #74 in passing efficiency. Bentley has completed 61.9% of his passes for 7.0 yards/attempt, 16 TD, and 11 INT overall this year, but in two games against ranked teams (Clemson, Georgia), he completed 37/65 passes for 5.5 yards/attempt, 2 TD, and 4 INT. While Michigan’s team isn’t ranked as highly as those two squads, the defense is as good as or better than both. Sophomore wideout Bryan Edwards (6’3″, 215) is the primary target with 59 catches, 705 yards, and 4 TD; he’s a physical player without a ton of speed. The most impressive receiver is 6’5″, 250 lb. junior tight end Hayden Hurst, who has 41 catches, 518 yards, and 2 TD. Freshman receivers OrTre Smith (6’4″, 219) and Shi Smith (5’10”, 179) have 26-30 catches for 326-350 yards and 5 total touchdowns. These players aren’t wildly productive, though their numbers are superstar-level when compared to Michigan’s receivers. Hurst will be a key target, and the Gamecocks’ wideouts will have to see if they can use their size advantages against the Wolverines’ corners, both of whom are under 6’0″.
- Players recruited by Michigan include: LB Brysen Allen-Williams, TE K.C. Crosby, TE Evan Hinson, TE Will Register, DE Aaron Sterling, DT M.J. Webb, CB Jamyest Williams
- Michigan has zero players from the state of South Carolina, and South Carolina has zero players from Michigan
LAST TIME THEY PLAYED . . .
- At the end of the 2012 season, South Carolina beat Michigan by a score of 33-28 in the Outback Bowl
- CB J.T. Floyd and LB Brandin Hawthorne were suspended for their extracurricular activities leading up to the game
- South Carolina QBs Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson combined for 341 yards, 4 TD, and 0 INT
- QB Devin Gardner was 18/36 for 214 yards, 3 TD, and 1 INT
- RB Denard Robinson ran 23 times for 100 yards
- WR Jeremy Gallon caught 9 passes for 145 yards and 2 TD
- South Carolina WR Ace Sanders returned a punt 63 yards for a TD
- Thompson threw the game-winning 32-yard TD pass to Bruce Ellington
- Karan Higdon runs for more yards than South Carolina
- Brandon Peters runs for a TD
- Michigan 27, South Carolina 13
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