The Wolverines toted an 8-4 regular season record to Tampa’s Outback Bowl at noon on the 1st day of January 2018, to confront South Carolina’s Gamecocks in Raymond James stadium. It certainly looked like they would fashion a hard-earned victory, but their own miscues allowed the Gamecocks victory. They were well on their way to a late lead, when QB Brandon Peters threw his first career interception in the red zone. It hurt the cause with 5:42 left in third quarter. Last year’s finish to the season was distressing, and here it is again. This time with an 8 and 5 finish.
The Wolverines wanted to usher in 2018 as a new era of Michigan Football with a memorable start. An era replete with impressive individual and team performances. But instead they fashioned a loss.
Shame to see this game as the last Michigan hurrah for notable Seniors like Mo Hurst, Pat Kugler, and others.
The next time you see Mo in a football uniform it will be on Sundays sans the winged helmet. Mo was the 2017 Wolverine’s MVP, and a consensus All-American. He had contemplated not playing in the Outback to avoid injury to maintain his expected status in the upcoming pro draft. The specter of last year’s injury to Jake Butt, which is still hampering Jake’s pro progress, was a serious consideration.
Even before his decision to play for the Blue one last time, Mo Hurst had proved to be a consummate Michigan Man, and that continued. He played another outstanding game for the Wolverine’s New Year’s Day.
There are other past contributors to M football that have decided to take their football elsewhere to exhaust their fifth-year graduate eligibility. Quarterback Wilton Speight contributed much to M Football, and whether here or elsewhere, should be lauded for his effort, ability and determination while wearing the Maize and Blue. His nasty spinal injury was a difficult problem to overcome in time to play again this season. Wilton could have provided some welcome QB experience next year, and competed for the starting QB position.
The QB roster has recently been strengthened with the transfer to Michigan of QB Shea Patterson from the University of Mississippi, a.k.a. Ole Miss. This program has recently been beleaguered by serious NCAA violations. This has enabled some of their players to transfer to other institutions to continue their NCAA football careers. Patterson was a highly ranked recruit, and performed in accordance with that ranking for Ole Miss, until he was injured in the regular season just completed. He has three years to exhaust his Maize and Blue eligibility as things stand.
M QB Alex Malzone will try his fortunes elsewhere, as will Wide Receivers Maurice Ways and Drake Harris. Drake played in 7 games this year, but only snagged nine catches, and battled injuries seemingly continuously during his career. Drake could have been a poster child for injuries. They occurred and recurred for him, and hindered his display of talent, and advancement.
We should, and we do wish all departing Seniors, these good M men, a great future in whatever they choose to do, wherever they choose to do it.
PETERS AND THE OFFENSE HAD A JOURNEYMAN DAY: In opposition of some fan expectations, Brandon Peters did not fashion a leg up on the 2018 starting quarterback job. He did make some nice plays, and also some bad mistakes as the Wolverines lost. He had an ordinary game, throwing for no TDs, and 2 interceptions.
There was a key fumble on an exchange with Sean McKeon as the running back. In after game comments Coach Harbaugh indicated it was a matter of the wrong personnel being on the field.
That Peters had his face mask pulled as he was sacked in the second half, and was poked in the eye, and had to sit some at crunch time, was a real downer, a critical turning point. John O’Korn came in and had no magic, either.
When Peters came back in, he threw a game clinching interception which ruined a late and great M red zone chance. A chance to take the lead.
The four field goals came back to haunt them as the Wolverines produced an anemic 277-yards of total offense.
The starting offensive line consisted of Cole, Onwenu, Kugler, Ruiz and Runyan. , Spaniellis replaced a dinged Kugler at center.
Peters was often hurried. At times the OL produced holes for Higdon, and Evans, The average yards per carry in the first quarter was something like 2.2-yards an attempt. It boggles my mind that a team that practices against a blitz everyday can’t handle the rush consistently, and protect its quarterback. This has to change.
Peters needed to play well to get this win, to earn a leg up on the competition he will face at the QB position next year. His prime competitors at the position of QB consist of Sophomore Dylan McCaffery, who red shirted this season, and incoming and experienced talent from Ole Miss transfer, QB Shea Patterson. They are both hyper talented. It seems likely Patterson will be allowed to play next year, although NCAA permission has not yet been granted. In any case, the QB room will have three good talents in the room during next season’s meetings.
All will be set to operate in prime competitive mode at the QB position, but they will miss a win at the Outback Bowl as their starting point. A win in that fracas would have been pure gold to jump start next season.
There are other QB talents in the wings. Hopefully they will not have to contribute sooner than later.
PLAYCALLING WAS NOT INVENTIVE, AND PREDICTABLE: The other side said afterwards that the route running in the passing game was very predictable, and the offense favored its tendencies. The running game was not inventive. It also fell short, producing only 74-yards. Karan Higdon fell six yards short of 1,000-yards. He had 17 carries for 65-yards. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Evans had 9 carries for 24 yards. He averaged 2.7 per carry. He and Evans both ran hard.
HARD HITTING GAME: Apparently there was a verbal war of words between the Wolverines and Gamecocks at pregame get acquainted bowling competition.
No one from either side got bowled over, and cooler heads prevailed, but it was an indication that it was not to not be a ho-hum affair.
On at least one occasion, it was a little too hard hitting on the part of one defensive Gamecock. He was flagged for targeting and thrown out for putting the top of his helmet on M receiver Donovon Peoples-Jones helmet.
The targeting call was reviewed and up held.
Muschamp went nuts, but it looked deliberate to me as did the face mask on Peters. I can’t say that Will Muschamp earned any respect from me in this game. Not that he cares.
THE GAMECOCKS: Their first scoring drive in the third quarter had two plays where our defense was out schemed. The second play resulted in six, and provided the path to their first TD and their victory.
There were some similarities between the teams. The similarities included an 8-4 record for the 2017 regular season, an offense that sometimes sputtered, but this game outplayed the Wolverines. Their defense was a solid defense that was respected more than their offense.
They too had a desire to finish up 9-4. Their defense was solid and their offense suspect. Sound familiar?
A big difference was that their offense, even though suspect, showed up when it counted.
The Gamecocks wanted to sustain the alleged superiority of the SEC over the B1G that the SEC proclaims, and in this case they did prevail. If we ever play them again, they will still be crowing over two wins, not just the hit.
Before the game, they fired their Offensive Coordinator for a very recognizable reason. Like Michigan, their offense had struggled against their better opponents.
M’s DEFENSE OUTPLAYED ITS OFFENSE, BUT STILL DID NOT HOLD A 20-POINT LEAD IN THE SECOND HALF. If one says that they let 20 unanswered points happen in the last half, it is also fair to state the offense answered the twenty with three. Again the defense played an extraordinary game for most of three quarters. Again, when it counted the opposition found a chink in the armor in the third quarter as exhibited in the Gamecocks first TD drive.
It is fair to say they were often faced with sudden change caused by offensive gaffes, and one special teams error. Inexplicably Donovon Peoples-Jones dropped a punt deep in his own territory and it was recovered by SC.
HOW THEY SCORED: The game started out as strictly a defensive production for both sides. It got a little interesting for Michigan Fans when Quinn Nordin booted the first of his four FGs at 3:42 of the 1st Quarter.
Ambry Thomas opened proceedings with the recovery of a fumbled Gamecocks punt. The drive stalled and Quinn Nordin hit a 17-yard FG. M was up 3 zip.
Quinn hit a 26-yarder, SC hit one from 44-yards, and Quinn hit a 45-yard field goal to make it 9-3 to end the first half. The FGs were nice but unsettling. When would the TDs begin?
The Wolverines kicked to start the second half, held and produced a great TD drive of 72-yards. Nico Collins used big frame to nab a 13-yard catch, K. Crawford got one for 27-yards, Higdon ran for 10 to the one, and Ben Mason hauled it in for six. This was his second career TD.
It was now 19-3. The Wolverines were in command at the ten-minute mark of the third quarter.
Noah Furbush then intercepted a tipped pass and advanced it 27-yards to the SC 27. Great play by Furbush. The Wolverines had a 1st down at the SC 9-yard line, when Higdon, struggling for yardage, had the ball ripped loose. SC recovered and another golden opportunity was history.
The Wolverines Quinn Nordin then struck again, this time from 48-yards out. Now 22-3 at the 5:42 mark of the third quarter, the Wolverines were still very much in charge.
But not for long, as SC moved 77-yards featuring a 17-yard TD run. Two M penalties were also featured. L. Marshall was offside early in the drive, and Josh Metellus was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. I believe M’s defense got out schemed on this drive. It was now M 19, SC 10.
Things were about to rapidly unravel for the Wolverines. A Peters, McKeon exchange error was offered the football on the ground to the Gamecocks and they covered it. The fumble is credited to Peters. A 27-yard pass made it 19-16 as SC did not convert their two-point attempt. At the end of the third quarter it remained 19-16.
The Wolverines could not move offensively to start the 4th, but the Gamecocks could. SC completed a 55-yard TD pass and it was 19-23. The big play bug bit again at crunch time.
Peters was sacked, poked in the eye, and went to the bench. John O’Korn replaced him. Peters came back in, and the ball moved to the SC five.
Peters then threw the first interception of his career. I thought things could not get worse, but a punt that DPJ was fielding at his 10-yard line bounced off his shoulder pad, and SC recovered it at the M 14. They then hit a 22-yard FG. And it was 19-26.
Donovon Peoples-Jones muffed a punt which was recovered at the M 14, to compound M’s woes. It led to the 22-yard SC FG included in the score above.
M had one more chance after a missed SC FG, but Peters threw his second interception, and it was over except for the gloating by SEC mavens.
THIS WAS A TOUGH SEASON: The Wolverines played hard this season but did not do well against better competition. This last loss was particularly tough for them, but it is not the end of their world or ours.
The coaches performed a near miracle with a defense that had one returning starter, and again was one of the best in the country. The coaches could not perform the same miracle for the offense. Running backs look better, play calling, and scheme are not getting necessary results.
They need to get stronger. Some of that may be helped by a new Strength and Conditioning perspective as Kevin Tolbert is leaving and Ben Herbert has been retained. Herbert formerly was with Wisconsin and and Arkansas.
I do not know how to make the Wolverines a well oiled football machine, but I trust the coaches do, and I hope they will be geared up to slug it out next season.
Thank you for slogging through these pages this season, Happy New Year, and Go Blue!