|Jordan Kovacs was the team’s MVP this season
Starters: Michigan will be missing its two starting cornerbacks from the beginning of the year; sophomore Blake Countess tore his ACL in the opener, and fifth year senior J.T. Floyd has been suspended for the Outback Bowl for breaking team rules. Sophomore Raymon Taylor (5’10”, 182 lbs.), who replaced Countess for most of the year, will likely slide over to Floyd’s boundary corner position. Taylor had his share of ups and downs on the season, but did a fair job overall and ended the regular season with 42 tackles, 2 interceptions (1 returned for a TD), 1 fumble recovery, and 1 pass breakup. Junior Courtney Avery (5’11”, 173 lbs.), who normally starts at nickel corner, will probably step in at Taylor’s regular field corner spot. Avery struggled there in some limited time early in the season, but he’ll have more reps this time around; playing a new position against Alabama is an extremely difficult task. This year Avery has 16 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, .5 sacks, 1 fumble forced, and 1 fumble recovery. Fifth year senior strong safety Jordan Kovacs (6’0″, 202 lbs.) has actually seen his statistics decline a little bit this year, but he was named the team’s MVP by his teammates; he has 65 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble. Redshirt junior Thomas Gordon (5’11”, 207 lbs.) is more of a strong safety masquerading, but he has shown a knack for creating turnovers in the past; he has 75 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 2 pass breakups. This is not a great group individually, but along with Floyd, they had the #2 passing yardage defense in the country.
Backups: Freshman safety Jarrod Wilson (6’2″, 194 lbs.) has played more extensively than any other backup, but he hasn’t had a signature positive play. The game is moving too fast for him, as it often does with young safeties. He could play a little bit at the nickel corner and has made 7 tackles and 1 fumble recovery on the year. Another candidate for slot corner is sophomore Delonte Hollowell (5’9″, 176 lbs.), who has 4 tackles and 1 fumble recovery but is more of a special teams player. The most interesting candidate for playing time is freshman Dennis Norfleet (5’7″, 161 lbs.), who returns kicks and ran the ball occasionally; he has now moved to defense in an attempt to shore up the depleted cornerback position. Junior safety Marvin Robinson (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is a run stuffer who has played sparingly on defense and made 7 tackles and 1 fumble recovery. Redshirt sophomore Josh Furman (6’2″, 203 lbs.) plays a lot on special teams but is a liability on defense; he has 10 tackles.
Starters: Redshirt sophomore Victor Hampton (5’10”, 197 lbs.) starts at one cornerback spot; he has made 34 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, and is tied for the team lead with 6 pass breakups. The other starter is senior Akeem Auguste (5’9″, 188 lbs.), who was injured early in the season and returned to start the last couple games; he has 15 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, and 1 fumble recovery on the year. Senior D.J. Swearinger (6’0″, 210 lbs.) is the free safety and has 70 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble, and 5 pass breakups. Sophomore Brison Williams (6’0″, 205 lbs.) starts at strong safety and has made 48 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 4 pass breakups this season.
Backups: Redshirt junior Jimmy Legree (6’0″, 189 lbs.), the other starting corner when Auguste was hurt, did a solid job. Legree is a converted free safety and has 43 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 interceptions. Redshirt freshman Ahmad Christian (5’10”, 189 lbs.) has 8 tackles and 2 pass breakups as the backup to Hampton. Sophomore Kadetrix Marcus (6’1″, 185 lbs.) backs up the strong safety position and has made 5 tackles.
The Wolverines have the #2 pass defense and #35 pass efficiency defense in the country, but quarterback play in the Big Ten has been woeful and they’ll be down a starting corner (or two, if you include Countess). Meanwhile, the Gamecocks have the #16 pass defense and the #34 pass efficiency defense in a schedule that included Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, Arkansas’s Tyler Wilson, and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, not to mention East Carolina and UAB teams that put up pretty decent numbers through the air. The Wolverines have played a steady diet of teams that rank in the 70’s or lower in passing offense, and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron – whose team blew out Michigan – was the only decent passer on the docket. I don’t think South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw will shred the secondary, but the edge in defensive back play goes to the Gamecocks.
Advantage: South Carolina