Outback Bowl: South Carolina vs. Michigan preview

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The Matchup: #10 South Carolina (10-2) vs. #18 Michigan (8-4)

When: Tuesday, January 1st

Where: Tampa, FL

Game Time: 1:00 PM ET

TV: ESPN

Michigan ranked wins: #20 Northwestern

What you need to know about Michigan: Michigan will play two quarterbacks on offense in Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner. Robinson will be used more of a runner in his final college game, thanks to an elbow injury he suffered last month. Gardner started the season at receiver, but he moved to quarterback after Robinson’s injury. Gardner has thrown for 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns, and Robinson threw for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns. Combined, these two quarterbacks have thrown for 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Neither player has taken care of the football.

Robinson, however, has rushed for 1,166 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Wolverines on the ground. We’ve seen him make play after play throughout his career. After rushing for 1,041 yards in ‘11, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has only managed 514 yards and five touchdowns. The running game now primarily features Robinson in designed running plays in the shotgun formation. Gardner and Robinson will rotate throughout much of the game.

Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree are the top two receivers on the team, as Gallon leads all receivers with 40 catches for 684 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Devin Funchess has caught a team-high five touchdowns.

The Wolverines, however, have made their money on defense this season, and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has done a fantastic job with this group. Upon taking over in 2011, Mattison transformed the worst defense in the Big Ten into an average defense last season. The Wolverines have the second best defense in the Big Ten in just his second season. They have only allowed 18.8 points per game on average and have excelled defending the pass, as they are currently #2 in the country against the pass.

Michigan currently has a -8 turnover margin and has turned it over 25 times this season. The biggest problem has been the quarterbacks throwing picks in horrible situations.

What you need to know about South Carolina: The 10-2 Gamecocks could play in any of the BCS bowls because they’re that good, and they’ll suit up a defense that is as physically big and gifted as Notre Dame, who happened to beat Michigan earlier in the year 13-6.

South Carolina could be forced to start backup quarterback Dylan Thompson again if Connor Shaw’s ankle is not ready. Thompson is the better option at quarterback if Shaw’s mobility is limited. Shaw has thrown for 1,732 yards and 15 touchdowns when he’s been healthy, but Thompson is the better passer of the two and has thrown for 910 yards and eight touchdowns in two starts and three games this season. No one will forget how well Thompson played on the road against Clemson in Shaw’s absence. USC will be fine with either quarterback.

The running game consists of Kenny Miles and Mike Davis in Marcus Lattimore’s absence. Miles has toted the rock 99 times for 358 yards and two touchdowns, while Davis only has 52 carries for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Neither are game breakers like Lattimore, but both are serviceable backs who can add punch to the running game and a balance to the offense.

Speedsters Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders lead the receivers. Both have combined for 74 catches for 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns. Just two years ago, Alshon Jeffery caught 88 passes by himself, and Ellington and Sanders have done a great job replacing the production of their star receiver who now suits up on Sundays.

But South Carolina makes their money with a filthy defense. The Gamecocks haven’t missed a beat under new defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. In fact, the defense is more explosive than last season. USC leads the SEC with 40 sacks. Jadeveon Clowney alone has registered 13 sacks alone with 21.5 tackles for loss. Those are stupid numbers. The Gamecocks are fourth in the SEC and 13th overall in scoring defense, allowing opponents a little over 17.4 points per game. It’s a stingy and stout group that loves to play physical and get after the quarterback.

By the numbers:

Category South Carolina Michigan
Scoring Offense 31.4 ppg 30 ppg
Total Offense 372.4 ypg 385.4 ypg
Rush Offense 142.92 ypg 187.33 ypg
Pass Offense 229.5 ypg 198.1 ypg
Scoring Defense 17.4 ppg 18.8 ppg
Total Defense 312.3 ypg 311.2 ypg
Rush Defense 119 ypg 156 ypg
Pass Defense 193.3 ypg 155.2 ypg
Turnover Margin +3 -8
INTs 14 7
Sacks By 40 19
Sacks Against 35 15

Who has the edge? South Carolina’s front four on defense gives the Gamecocks the edge against Michigan. The Wolverines have played five close games in which the outcome was ultimately decided by a touchdown or less, so they’re comfortable playing close games. And Michigan has done a particularly good job protecting the quarterback, as they have only surrendered 15 sacks all season. South Carolina will look to exert their will on whichever quarterback lines up in the backfield, but I’m just having a hard time seeing Michigan consistently putting drives together against the Gamecocks’ defense.

Above all, we will see Denard Robinson play his final game, ever, in college. As a fan of the game – it has been fun watching him break off 75-yard runs on option plays throughout his career. But being chased by Jadeveon Clowney isn’t the ideal exit.

Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

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