Continuing his 2012 bowl previews, Joe Healy previews the Outback Bowl.
When a comparison is made between old-style smash-mouth football and the modern sport that is dominated by speed and freakish athletes all over the field, even at positions you wouldn’t expect, the comparison is always between the SEC and the Big Ten.
I don’t know that this game will be a classic comparison between the two conferences, but it will still be another interesting chapter in that debate.
The South Carolina Gamecocks certainly have the types of athletes I was describing.
Chief among them is sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The Rock Hill, South Carolina native tallied 13 sacks on the season and saved his best performance for the last game of the season, a rivalry game with Clemson. In that contest, he came up with 4.5 sacks. As a unit, the South Carolina defense ranks 12th in the nation in scoring defense, as opposing defenses only managed 17.4 points per game.
On offense, they got pretty solid performances from two quarterbacks. Connor Shaw, the starter at the start of the season, threw for 1,732 yards and 15 touchdowns. Dylan Thompson, who filled in when Shaw when down with injuries, threw for 910 yards and had an 8/2 touchdown to interception ratio.
The Gamecocks running game was a force earlier in the season, but that hasn’t quite been the case ever since they lost star running back Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome injury midway through the season. Lattimore’s season ended with 662 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Kenny Miles, the second-leading rusher on the team, managed just 358 yards and only 3.9 yards per rush.
Michigan isn’t quite the stereotypical Big Ten team in the way that a team like Wisconsin is, but they have some of the same characteristics.
The biggest thing is that they feature a pretty fearsome defense. After having one of the worst defenses not only in the Big Ten but in the nation under Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines have gotten significantly better in just two years under Brady Hoke. This season, they had the second-best defense in the Big Ten.
Linebacker Jake Ryan was a do-it-all player for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. He led the team in tackles with 84, tackles for loss with 14.5, forced fumbles with four and he tied for the team lead in sacks with four.
Where Michigan differs from your typical Big Ten team is on offense. Rather than leaning on a workhorse running back like a Montee Ball at Wisconsin or a Le’Veon Bell at Michigan State, the Wolverines lean on a dynamic quarterback that can make plays on the ground and through the air.
We all know what Denard Robinson is capable of and what he has done in the past and 2012 was more of the same, although he took a bit of a step back as a passer. His completion percentage is the lowest of his career as is his 9/9 touchdown to interception ratio. His yardage total was also over 800 yards less than his previous low, but that’s partially a function of the fact that he didn’t throw as many passes this year.
On the ground, Robinson was just as dynamic as he has always been. He rushed for 1,166 yards and a had a career high of 7.6 yards per rushing attempt. To give you an idea of how dependent the Wolverines were on him rushing for big yardage, the second-leading rusher on the team was Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rushed for only 514 yards.
When Robinson was looking to pass the ball, he had a couple of big-play threats to throw to. Jeremy Gallon caught 40 passes for 684 yards, a 17.1 yard average. Roy Roundtree caught only 28 passes, but he made the most of them. He averaged 19.8 yards per catch, giving him 553 total yards.
As has so often happened, I think the SEC will win this matchup. South Carolina’s defense is fast enough to keep up with Denard Robinson, which may force him to throw the ball a little more than he would like. I don’t have to tell you how things go for Michigan when Denard is forced to try to win games with his arm rather than his legs.