Michigan will head south to take on a South Carolina team that was one close loss away from being in the middle of the national championship conversation. Many are already extremely pessimistic about the Wolverines' chances, and rightfully so. South Carolina fields solid talent on defense and has impressive wins on their resume, including a 28-point thrashing of the Georgia Bulldogs. On the other hand, they also have an unimpressive victory over Wofford and a 33-point loss at the hands of the Florida Gators. Maize n Brew will break down the game even further as the weeks leading up to the game pass by, but for now I've put together a general summary of what Michigan will be facing in both the Gamecocks' offense and defense.
Useful statistics: 66th in passing yardage, 86th in rushing, 43rd in points for.
It's safe to say that the South Carolina offense isn't on the same level as its defense. It has struggled at times, putting only 17 points up against Vanderbilt and a mere 24 against a completely overpowered Wofford team.
The Gamecocks' rushing attack took a brutal hit just over a month ago against Tennessee, as star running back and future NFL workhorse Marcus Lattimore went down with a terrifyingly gruesome leg injury. I know you think you want to search for the video of Lattimore's injury on Youtube, but trust me, you don't.
Their running game hasn't lived up to expectations this year, faltering against good defenses while putting up average numbers against the others. The team did turn in a great rushing performance against Georgia, but the loss of Lattimore almost certainly means they won't be able to run the ball at that level against Michigan.
So, in the words of the great* Mark Dantonio, where's the threat? Don't go writing off USC's running game too quickly. I can't tell if their struggles are a direct result of playing great defenses, poor execution, or a combination of both. Film study should bring the answer to that question. I can tell you that Connor Shaw is talented and currently out with a foot injury, and that his backup just tore the Clemson defense apart through the air. Shaw is a solid athlete and will put pressure on the Michigan defense to stay disciplined, assuming he's back to 100% come game day.
The Gamecocks' receiving core isn't exactly equivalent to that other USC WR core, but it's respectable. Justice Cunningham hasn't been too productive but he's still a very athletic tight end, and they also have a guy named Ace Sanders, who is, well..
..bordering on Denard Robinson speed. Michigan has avoided being beat deep for much of the past two seasons, but South Carolina will look to expose that guy named Floyd much like Ohio State did. It's critical for Michigan to keep the big plays to a minimum, as the South Carolina defense won't give Michigan a chance to turn this into a shootout.
Useful statistics: 12th in total defense, 13th in scoring defense, 15th in rushing defense, 17th in passing defense.
Get to know Jadeveon Clowney, as he will get to know Devin Gardner.
Clowney is a massive piece in a great defense, supplying ample pass rush ability and enough athleticism to make tackles from sideline to sideline. If you follow recruiting you already know that Clowney is one of the great physical talents to come out of high school in recent memory. If you don't follow recruiting you probably know his name anyway, mostly because his stat line reads: 50 total tackles, 13(!) sacks, 21.5(!!) tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup. Oh, and he missed South Carolina's easiest game of the year against Wofford. If you aren't intimidated enough, read this: Clowney could easily be the first pick in the NFL draft.
Now you're thinking that I should stop drooling over the opponents' star defensive end and talk about the USC defense as a whole. Your wish is my command.
The Gamecocks' defense is fairly talented from top to bottom, but their performance has been up and down. They held Florida under 200 total yards despite losing by a ton of points and made the Georgia offense look pathetic. Then they gave up 400 total yards to a mediocre LSU offense, and also allowed Clemson to rack up 328 yards on only 20 minutes of possession. Once again, film study will fill in the question marks that come up after looking at these statistics.
Right now you should know that Michigan will have its hands full keeping track of Clowney, even if he's lining up in front of Taylor Lewan for much of the game. The Wolverines will undoubtedly struggle to run the ball against the Gamecocks, but there is hope for Devin Gardner to produce if Al Borges can find a way to give him time. That's a gigantic if, but it's a possibility nonetheless.
Right now Michigan looks to be an underdog by a touchdown. Connor Shaw and Ace Sanders will give Greg Mattison problems, and Jadeveon Clowney will do his best to terrorize Devin and Denard. However, there's still hope on offense if Devin Gardner comes prepared, and the defense still has the ability to keep the Wolverines in the game. I'll have more answers once I sit down and watch some tape of USC.
Lastly, make sure to check out G&B Attack, SB Nation's South Carolina community. We'll speak with the SEC bloggers about how their team stacks up in the coming days.