TAMPA, Fla. — Denard Robinson is fast, elusive, dangerous, dynamic and a handful for any defense to stop.
His backup ain’t bad, either.
“The same problem as Denard Robinson, probably not as fast,” senior Damario Jeffery said on Thursday. “Both of them can line up anywhere on the field at any given time and do the same thing. It’s a scrambling quarterback that can throw. It’s a big problem, but a good problem. We love a challenge.”
That’s good, because No. 11 South Carolina has one.
While most of the defensive attention has gone to Robinson, No. 19 Michigan’s jack-of-all-trades athlete, his backup at quarterback also deserves a look. Devin Gardner played extensive minutes throughout the season and was pressed into starting service when Robinson injured his elbow in October. Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions, rushed for 142 yards on 35 carries (although his net was 77 yards when sacks were taken into account) and made himself into a viable option to lead the Wolverines’ offense.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been silent about what his plans are for Robinson in the Outback Bowl, since he returned from the injury to play well against Iowa but had a bad game against Ohio State. USC coach Steve Spurrier was wondering if Robinson’s elbow had recovered on Thursday at practice, but nobody could tell him what was going on.
The Gamecocks are left to prepare for two quarterbacks. Robinson’s reputation precedes him, but Gardner’s film hasn’t been shabby.
“Michigan probably has some of the best skill players we’ve seen all year, very comparable to Clemson and the University of Tennessee and some of those other guys we’ve played this year,” secondary coach Grady Brown said. “It’s really on-par with all of the top skill players we’ve seen. Both of those quarterbacks do a great job of keeping plays alive, so you’re going to have to cover this week a little longer than what you normally do.”
Gardner doesn’t have the experience of Robinson, but is a lethal athlete. Aided by five receivers who each have at least 230 yards this season, Gardner is a much better passer than Robinson, but Michigan’s system enables him to run some.
The Gamecocks’ secondary has solidified after some early-season yips, and Brown is hoping that he will be able to leave all of his starters in place. D.J. Swearinger played some cornerback late in the year, and with a mobile quarterback, Brown may be tempted to play him closer to the line, but it may not be necessary.
“I hope we can play him at his normal position, but at the end of the day, my job as a coach is to get the best four guys on the field, and that’s who’s playing the best at that particular time,” Brown said. “We’re really blessed that we have a couple of guys that can go back and forth.”
The key is to spy on whoever’s under center, and check down to the appropriate set, as Jeffery explained. He said that the defense is working on several packages to prepare for each QB, and hopes that they’re similar players.
“We’re going to treat it like any regular game when we play a spread team,” Jeffery said. “Stop the run, and make a team pass, make them one-dimensional. We can pretty much shut them down after that.”
As for a pass-rushing disruption like Jadeveon Clowney, a running quarterback affects what he can do. Clowney knew that, and knew that he may not know who he will be trying to chase down from snap to snap.
“Both of them got speed, so we’ve just got to try to contain him, keep him inside the pocket,” Clowney said. “It affects my game a lot, because I like to take shots to the side, but (Gardner’s) pretty fast. He can hurt you.”
Kenny Miles practiced with a small brace on his left knee. He sprained the knee during the Clemson game.
Connor Shaw fully practiced, and did not wear a walking boot before or after practice.