Crystal Logiudice-US PRESSWIRE
South Carolina boasts one of the best defenses in the country statistically, and they've also got the most talented lineman in the country. How can Michigan counter their talent?
Merry Christmas everyone! Your gift from me is a rundown of what I think Michigan should do to beat South Carolina. Take a look at some tape before you start reading:
LSU vs South Carolina
Clemson vs South Carolina
Things You'll Immediately Notice
First of all, the Gamecocks' interior defensive line is merely above average, and they would plummet in rushing defense if they didn't start two freak athletes at defensive end. Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor are both athletic and disruptive enough to affect a team's ability to run inside and outside, but LSU and Clemson had some success inside when they managed to block Clowney and Taylor off. LSU runs an obvious QB sneak at 1:34 of their video, easily pushing the interior Gamecocks back for a first down. Clemson's offensive line was up and down all year but still looked strong on the inside against South Carolina. The middle of the line is beatable.
Unfortunately for Michigan this probably won't mean much, as the Wolverines' two best offensive lineman play tackle. South Carolina's interior is exploitable assuming the offense they're facing fields decent talent inside, and Michigan is very average at center and guard. Expect Michigan to run the ball just enough to keep South Carolina honest on play action, but don't expect LSU-level gashes.
Secondly, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor are going to be major trouble. Clowney is capable of beating Lewan on many downs, and whoever gets to line up across from Michael Schofield is going to have a strong showing. Taylor and Clowney are both longer and quicker than Schofield, meaning that Devin Gardner will have a man in his face for much of the day if Al Borges fails to do adapt. The second half of that sentence scares us all.
Lastly, South Carolina's defensive backs are all too used to playing behind defensive ends that eat quarterbacks. Their corners are ultra-aggressive ball hawks at times, looking for interceptions while leaving themselves susceptible to double moves. We'll talk about this more further down the article.
How Michigan Should Attack
Writing this section for a bowl game is tough to pull off. Both teams have ample time to study film and change schemes accordingly, which means that much of this could be moot by the time the actual game comes around. Remember Michigan vs Florida? Yea, things change for bowl games.
Anyway, if I was Michigan's head coach I would focus on three things:
Minimize the effects of Clowney and Taylor. Clowney shouldn't ever be the unblocked man on a play, whether it be on inverted veers or classic zone reads, and most quick passes need to go away from him as well. He's going to demolish cut blocks and swat down slants and screens. Taylor is less of a freak athlete but still shouldn't be the target of too many read plays. Isolation runs up the middle should be accompanied by an occasional toss in order to keep the two honest.
Win inside. Michigan hasn't run the ball well all year, but averaging at least three yards per carry between the guards is a must. Three yards may not seem like enough to constitute "winning", but it's enough to make my third point work. This doesn't mean that Michigan should be running between the guards on half of its plays.
Make South Carolina pay off of play action. South Carolina's defensive backs are going to be susceptible to double moves, so if Jeremy Gallon's obnoxious curl is working there needs to be a few hitch-and-go routes thrown. General play action should have some success if Schofield and Lewan can keep Gardner upright.
The overall takeaway: don't let Clowney and Taylor take over the game. The athleticism of Robinson and Gardner can't win this game for Michigan, so Borges needs to come prepared with a plan and multiple backup plays. Pray for Gorgeous Al Borges but be prepared for Incompetent and Utterly Ignorant Al Borges.