Michigan Football: How Greg Mattison Can Outsmart Steve Spurrier in Outback Bowl
USA TODAY Sports
Michigan has been listed as a 5.5 point underdog (per USA Today) in the upcoming Outback Bowl against South Carolina on Jan. 1.
As the opening kickoff approaches, key injuries, intriguing matchups and scheme changes will be dissected in an attempt to agree or disagree with the point spread.
Absent from the contest will be both teams' top running backs. Fitzgerald Toussaint will miss the game for the No. 19 Wolverines, while Marcus Lattimore will be out for the Gamecocks. In addition, Michigan's dual-threat quarterback, Denard Robinson, may be limited to running the football due to a lingering elbow injury.
With an abundance of time between the final regular-season game and the bowl battle, there's been plenty of time to make necessary adjustments.
South Carolina will most likely switch from a balanced offense to one that depends on the arms of starting quarterback Connor Shaw and backup Dylan Thomas.
Head coach Steve Spurrier, who years ago quarterbacked his way to a Heisman Trophy as a Florida Gator, is no stranger to airing it out.
Before his recent stint with the Gamecocks began in 2005, Spurrier revolutionized Southeastern Conference football while he coached Florida to a national championship and six conference titles from 1990-99.
Spurrier's pass-oriented offense became known as the “Fun 'n Gun,” which was a total departure from the run-dominated attacks primarily employed by other SEC teams.
How much fun Spurrier will have in the Outback Bowl might be dictated from the opposite side of the ball.
Michigan's defense, which is led by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, has allowed just 155.2 passing yards per game—second in the NCAA.
Like Spurrier, Mattison's body of work is no stranger to college football fans. In fact, Spurrier and Mattison met face-to-face from 2005-07, when Spurrier was at South Carolina and Mattison was at Florida.
Before his tenure at Florida, Mattison spent time at Michigan and Notre Dame.
He left the Gators for the Baltimore Ravens and spent 2008 as their defensive line coach. He then served as the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010.
Allowing just 16.6 points per game in those two seasons, Mattison's 3-4 defense became the envy of many.
Mattison joined head coach Brady Hoke a season ago and turned Michigan's defense from college football's laughing stock to one that commands much more respect.
Of course, Michigan will not by any means shut down the Gamecocks. After all, we're talking about a South Carolina team which scored 35 points against the Georgia squad, which nearly upset Alabama in the SEC championship game.
But the Wolverines do have a few tricks to help the cause. Since Michigan hasn't had much of a pass rush when playing the straight 4-3 under, it's depended on Mattison's creative blitz packages to pressure the quarterback.
Blitzing too often creates too much single coverage, something that Spurrier's sophisticated passing game would exploit.
Shifting into Mattison's 3-4 would not only add a few blitz packages, it would also add a man to the pass defense.
With Lattimore out of the lineup, Michigan should be keep the Gamecock running game in check. The Gamecocks don't have a Carlos Hyde or Le'Veon Bell in the lineup.
So Mattison and Spurrier should have quite a poker game going, but we all know what the wild card really is.
Of course, that's Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who's won several games by himself in his illustrious career.
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