Five gameday storylines: USC vs. Michigan

jkendall@thestate.comDecember 31, 2012 

South Carolina Gamecocks running back Kenny Miles (31) laughs with teammates during practice at Jefferson High School in Tampa.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

  • Outback Bowl WHO: USC (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4) WHEN: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. TV: ESPN RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5 LINE: South Carolina by 6

The Shoelace Show

Michigan’s Denard Robinson will be on the field somewhere Tuesday. It’s just that the Gamecocks won’t know where exactly. Robinson, a full-time quarterback for most of his career, has played quarterback, running back and wide receiver in the last two games. The combination of Robinson and quarterback/wide receiver Devin Gardner gives offensive coordinator Al Borges plenty of options for trick plays, so don’t be surprised to see some unconventional looks from the Wolverines. Borges has experience melding dynamic offensive talents. He was Auburn’s offensive coordinator when the Tigers had running backs Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown in the same backfield.

By land or air?

South Carolina is 10th in the SEC in total offense – a stat Steve Spurrier calls “not overly impressive” – but it’s been good enough for 10 wins. The question Tuesday is where will the bulk of that offense come from, the running game or the passing game? The Gamecocks consider themselves a run-first team, but they are coming off a 310-yard passing day against Clemson. The Wolverines rank No. 56 in the nation against the run (156 yards per game) and No. 2 against the pass (155.2 yards per game). “We have to run, we are not good enough to throw 40 times. Although we did the last game didn’t we? I don’t know how it’s going to work out,” coach Steve Spurrier said.

Perimeter problems

Michigan’s highly ranked pass defense is undermanned Tuesday because both its top cornerbacks are out. Blake Countess suffered a torn ACL and J.T. Floyd was suspended from the game. Sophomore Raymon Taylor and junior Courtney Avery are expected to start in place of Countess and Floyd. Depth also is an issue because Michigan has moved running back Dennis Norfleet to the defensive backfield, but South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington expects Michigan’s backups to play well. “Michigan is a great team,” Ellington said. “Their second string is probably just as good as their first string. We just have to get out there and do what we have to do and catch the ball.”

Bad bowl performances

The Gamecocks are 5-12 in bowl games. Spurrier is 8-10 in bowl games. As a pair, Spurrier and South Carolina are 2-4 in bowl games. Michigan, for all its rich tradition, has not been at its best in bowl games either. The Wolverines are 20-21 in their history in bowl games. They are coming off a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech but are 2-7 in their last nine bowl appearances. Michigan is 3-1 all-time in the Outback Bowl (and its predecessor the Hall of Fame Bowl). South Carolina also has appeared in the Outback/Hall of Fame game four times. It holds a 2-2 record.

Another top 10 finish?

In its first 117 years of football history, South Carolina did not finish in the nation’s top 10 in any season. Last year, it finished No. 9. The Gamecocks enter Tuesday’s game No. 11, but there may not be a lot of room for movement after this bowl season. If South Carolina fans are hoping to move into the top 10 this year, they will of course have to root for their team to win but also do something less palatable – root for Clemson to beat No. 9 LSU. No. 12 Oklahoma upsetting No. 10 Texas A&M, Wisconsin beating No. 8 Stanford even No. 5 Oregon beating No. 7 Kansas State might help.

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Head to head

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney vs. Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan

Lewan, 6-foot-8, 308 pounds, is a redshirt junior who may enter the NFL Draft this season. If he does, he’s expected to be a first round pick. Clowney, 6-6, 256, is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick next year, which is the first in which he is eligible to enter the draft. South Carolina’s defensive coaching staff will move Clowney around along the defensive line, meaning he won’t go head-to-head against Lewan on every snap, but the ones he does will be worth watching. “I think anybody can be blocked one on one. How long you block him is what the key is,” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said. Hoke also indicated the Wolverines will give their offensive linemen help with Clowney. “The guy plays with a really good motor,” Hoke said. “He wouldn’t be nearly as good if he didn’t. Whatever you do, you have to execute it and there has to be a timing to all your passing.”

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Spurrier-Hoke press conference

Bowl preview

Sunday practice highlights

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