2018 Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh takes questions from the media after Michigan’s 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Also, how many times will the media ask if he’s leaving for the NFL.
Offensively, Michigan’s inability to hit a few open and needed passes, the inability of the defense to protect against big pass plays, a spectacular special team lapse, and a stout South Carolina defense pasted another L on the Wolverine record books. Another what might have been loss.
The SEC’s representative, the South Carolina Gamecocks, and the Big Ten’s representative, the Michigan Wolverines, met at Tampa’s Outback Bowl on January 1st, 2013, in a game both sides needed and coveted, but it was the Gamecocks who were ranked 10th in the nation, and the Wolverines that were ranked at a comparatively lowly 18th in the nation. SC owned 10 victories to M’s 8. It looked beforehand that the Wolverines would have their claws full, with their struggling offense stymied by SC’s great defensive front line. And in actuality, the Wolverines were hurt by that line, especially in critical bull rushes that got home. What was more unexpected was Michigan’s lack of effective pass protection.
Both teams were very well motivated, but the Gamecocks came from the favored conference, the SEC, and a least one of their representatives was true to form, spouting speed, speed, speed, as strictly an SEC advantage. Under the tutelage of the self-proclaimed “Old Ball” Coach, well known Steve Spurrier, South Carolina has prospered as never before. He is a crafty, nifty, and shifty football thinker. The Gamecocks are an opponent that competing team’s love to best, but have to be at their sharpest to accomplish that mission. The Wolverines were almost, but not quite, up to the task.
SEC footballers are no strangers to the Wolverines. An SEC team and the Wolverines have competed 32 times over the years with the Wolverines establishing a 23-8-1 all-time record against the SEC. They have 7 wins and 5 losses against SEC teams in bowl games.
SC was without the services of standout running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered damage to three ligaments of a leg according to a published article of his surgeon. So this formidable weapon, just declaring for the pro draft, did not play in the game.
M’s best running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is hurt and still healing. He had not produced this season like Lattimore had, or like he himself had the year before. M’s most effective runner this season has been Denard Robinson. I couldn’t see that changing now. Before this game he had charted 1,166-yards by rushing, also down from the year before.
South Carolina sports two Quarterbacks, Connor Shaw, and Dylan Thompson, as do the Wolverines in Denard Robinson and developing Devin Gardner. The starter at QB since the injury of Denard at Nebraska, Devin acquitted himself effectively except in the last half of the Ohio State game, where the offense struggled mightily, and by failing to score, lost the game. Even so, Devin remains a highly recruited QB, with a wealth of talent featuring a strong arm and decent mobility, and a great future at the position. He has good size at 6’2″ and some 200 pounds. He was 18 of 24 for 214-yards on New Year’s Day. How good Devin will become is probably proportional to his work ethic.
Unfortunately, some Wolverines decided to tilt the field a little more in South Carolina’s and the SEC’s direction through their own actions, mistakes and otherwise, as Seniors CB Starter J.B. Floyd, and special teams contributor Brandon Hawthorne broke team rules and got tossed, ending their football careers at Michigan on a sour note. I heard rumors of excessive celebration at graduation parties, but who the Hoke knows, but Hoke?
That was harmful to them and to their team, especially with the best DB, on the team, Blake Countess still unavailable. Big passing plays hurt M’s chances time and again. Whether Floyd’s presence would have stopped that is not provable, but his absence obviously did hurt. Then there is that magnificent punter Will Hagerup, who is in the doghouse again, and will have to leave M’s punting fortunes to Matt Wile. One national pundit looked at Matt’s averages, which were perhaps around 32-yards per punt to Will’s 42, and expressed concern. Wile’s low average may be explained in part by the fact he was the pooch punter. Showing he is more than a punter Wile hit a fifty-two yard FG. Hagerup’s immediate future is not being discussed by Coach Hoke. He did not play. Fullback Stephan Hopkins also chose to leave the team.
While the above was a concern, the intense pregame interest focused mainly on Denard Robinson. The state of his health, his utilization and positions. Could he now throw? Was he healthy enough to play multiple positions, like slot receiver, running back, punt or kick returner and or QB. Oops, I forgot CB. Denard played running back, receiver and quarterback but did not throw a pass completion. He ran for 100-yards on 23 carries.
PASS DEFENSE ROCKY
There was little if any pregame concern in the media focused on whether M’s defensive backfield could hold up, and whether its pass rush could happen, and it turned out that this was a prime area of concern. Spurrier’s charges seriously exploited M’s pass defense. It was big play heaven for SC’s passing game. Still, the defense could have preserved a win at the end but couldn’t. Not their finest hour. M’s no effective pass rusher defense contributed as much as offensive’s lack of pass protection. The need to blitz contributed to the big plays. Unfortunately offense, defense, and special teams contributed to this loss. The kind of team result you do not want.
GAME’S TURNING POINT:
Taylor Lewan’s battle with J. Clowney drew attention. Lewan won some battles, but lost some. Lewan earned an occasional holding call, but can not be discredited with the turn-around play of the game, but the offensive line can be. Slightly into the 4th quarter, Michigan was ahead and had possession of the ball and a slight lead after an amazing 1st down spot favorable to the Wolverines was upheld by review. It had Spurrier going nuts, and the M crowd going wild. But on the next play, Clowney slipped Lewan and hit Vincent Smith at handoff, knocking Smith’s helmet off, and the ball out and to the ground. I thought Smith got a blow to the head, but no foul was called. If this drive was completed, M could reasonably have held on for a win. It was a big play for the Gamecocks, a kick in the nether regions for the Wolverines. Outstanding play for Clowney. A thirty-yard SC TD pass resulted.
MICHIGAN’S UNSUAL SITUATION:
Seldom has a Michigan team,at this late date in a season, been in search of a running game, and searching for a scheme to get one of M’s most prolific runners ever running effectively, while the aerial game is by another. Also, they ran two different systems. The read option parlayed by Denard (or by anybody else, or any other running scheme, for that matter) doesn’t work as well as expected if it is known that the running capable QB, isn’t passing capable. Reference the last half of the Ohio State game.
Michigan has not prospered offensively on significant occasions this season. No TDs two straight games, no TD the second half of the Ohio game. There was the ND game where Denard threw multiple interceptions, but was never benched for a breather to recover his poise. As much as I like and respect this coaching staff, those were not the offense’s finest hours in critical games. Earlier criticized for lack of innovation, it was there today. They even ran an expanded pony, called a couple of fake punts plays, gambling on 4th down.
They employ the dual QB system, but there were not spectacular results. Devins’ game was hurt by someThey did with some inconsistent results. Usually those results were the caused by two factors: inconsistent throws by Devin, and OL and/or RB’s inability to manage the pass rush effectively. Although he ran well Denard was unable to manufacture a big play of any sort, something special out of his last hurrah in a Michigan helmet.
- Avoidance of stupid penalties. Actuality: Some holding calls hurt, for example Lewan’s when he was working in Clowney control.
- Find adequate secondary replacements to replace Floyd. It was thought Avery would be the replacement. Acuality: Sometimes it was a safety that was out of position on a blitz. Actuality: M allowed 341 passing and 85-yards rushing.
- M has been sorting through the running backs. One or more of Rawls, Hayes, or Smith had to step up. Actuality: Justice Hayes played a little. No running back stepped up yardage wise. Norfleet has switched to DB.
- Would Denard find his magic wheels again, and/or his arm? The team needs a super human effort from him to win. Actuality: Little or no magic, but some nice runs for first downs. On this day M needed a Denard spectacular. SC’s defense wouldn’t allow it.
- Could Devin Gardner meet the challenges he faces in the biggest game of his budding QB career. Actuality: Devin’s first half was rough, but his second half was very good. There is not yet perfection, but there is much promise.
- Would the newly reconstituted defensive backfield be able to preserve Michigan’s place as one of the better pass defenses in college football? Actuality: The defense as a whole did not play good pass defense. Their lofty national pass defense standing turned out to be somewhat red herring, perhaps born of playing few good passing teams. They allowed big play after big play.
BRIEF GAME RECAP:
M deferred and kicked off. Three plays later the Gamecocks were in the end zone via 56-yard TD pass putting SC up 7. So much for a fast start. M responded with a 50-yard Gibbons field goal making it M-3, SC-7 with half the 1st quarter history. Next came a stunner, a sixty-three yard punt return and it was M-3, SC- 14. M may have missed the dismissed Brandon Hawthorne on this play, but they should have stopped it anyway.
In the second quarter, the Wolverines offense woke up and Gardner engineered an 11-play, 76-yard drive and they were back in it. His TD pass to Gallon for five yards was sort of a shot-put pass. Nice play by Gardner. It was unusual but effective. M- 10, SC- 14. The Gamecocks retaliated with a third down and long 70-yard TD pass to the 4. They scored on the next play. And it was M-10, SC-21. Jake Ryan recovered a forced fumble from a Mario Ojemudia hit. Then came some long awaited trickeration as Drew Dileo, FG holder faked the FG, and ran for a first down, just slipping over the line necessary for a first down. But the Wolverines were held to another Gibbons FG from forty yards out. At the half it was M-13, SC- 21. They got more TDs, we got more FGs. That is not the right recipe.
M received in the second half, stalled and then allowed a 64-yard pass play, but held SC to an FG attempt, which the Wolverines helped them miss. Gallon grabbed a 17-yarder, and Matt Wile hit a 52-yard FG. M-16, SC-21. A TD needed and an FG secured. Regardless it was a nice Wile effort.
Now well into the third quarter, M’s defense held and Devin Gardner ran for 19-yards. On fourth and one from his own 44. On a later third and five he galloped for another first down, and then threw to Gallon for a TD. M-22, SC-21.
The Wolverines blocked a 42-yard FG attempt. At about the ten minute mark of the 4th, Michigan faked a punt and barely made the 1st down. Then fate favored the talent of the Gamecocks as Jadeveon Clowney slipped protection and hit Vincent Smith in the backfield, knocking off his helmet and dislodging the ball, which was recovered by the Gamecocks at the Michigan thirty. This was a definite turning point in fortunes. M gave up possession at a critical point in the game and soon afforded the opposition 7 points on a 30-yard TD pass. M-22, SC-27. SC missed the two point conversion. The Wolverines kept battling and went ahead again, with a little over three minutes left to tick away.
Gallon caught another from Gardner in the end zone after a 4-first down drive, and the Wolverines were slightly ahead again. M-28, SC-27.
M’s defense could not hold the Gamecocks and they scored on a 32-yard pass to bring the final tally to M-28, SC-34.
Not surprisingly, the Wolverines could not score in the 11 seconds they had left
Jeremy Gallon had an outstanding game with 9 receptions for 145-yards and 2 TDs, and is my choice for offensive player of the game. Drew Dileo had 22- remarkable yards on fake punts.
DENARD’S CAREER ACCOMPLISHMENTS-BRIEFLY:
It is doubtful there will ever be a replica of the athlete that is Denard Robinson. There has never been a QB anywhere with his running ability. M’s Harmon, Howard, Woodson, Oosterbaan, Kramer, Edwards and more have all shared great athleticism, but remained unique, and Denard’s running ability established him in their class: great, unique, and electrifying. They each had a common thread, and that was love of the University of Michigan, playing football, and being proud Michigan Men. Denard fits smoothly and deservedly into that group.
His affable personality was another positive. Kid wanted an autograph, Denard happily signed it. When the TV panned to the Maize Rage during basketball games, he was sometimes spotted with them and enjoying himself immensely. Consistently, he honored his teammates. While Michigan is going to be in very capable hands at QB in his absence, Robinson will be missed by everyone not an opposing defensive coordinator, or from Columbus, East Lansing, or Madison, etc. You know the list. A football weapon is moving on, naturally taking his great persona and skills with him. It will be our loss. I can’t help wishing him the best in all his future endeavors. He has given more than he has taken.
While he didn’t get all the wins he or his teams wanted, he has represented Michigan well while being no less than the very face of the Wolverine football program during trying program and coaching changes. He endured, all the while taking a terrific physical beating without a murmur, and while sometimes playing injured. He is a man who likes to play football, and executes in the most exciting way possible.
All I can say is well done, Denard, and thank you! You will be missed when long autumn shadows creep into Ann Arbor again next season. New Year’s Day, at Raymond James Stadium, Denard ran for 100-yards, eclipsing Pat White the former record holder, with a total of 4,394-yards, making him the NCAA record holder for QBs.
ACCOLADES TO OTHER DEPARTING PLAYERS:
Barnum, Mealer, Omaneh, V. Smith, Campbell, Roh, Demens, and Kovacs have exhausted their eligibility, among others. They have contributed much to Michigan Football, and all will be remembered for their contributions.
ALL TEAM GOALS NOT ACCOMPLISHED BY TEAM 133:
The team did not accomplish its major avowed goal, a B1G Championship and nothing can remedy that. The team did not win its bowl game and nothing can remedy that.
One reason fans were so disappointed by Team 133’s failure to achieve a shot at the B1G Championship game in the just past season was that it was a year of unusual opportunity. M’s prime competitor and probably the best team in the B1G was Ohio. As you know Ohio shot themselves in the foot or higher (where they might have destroyed a tattoo), during Tresslegate. While the B1G interestingly let Ohio gather in a Championship Trophy with its stained fingers, they were forbidden the championship game. A barrier was removed, but the Wolverines could not take advantage. Denard was knocked out of the Nebraska game in the first half, and that was all she wrote. A not yet ready for prime time Russell Bellomy was inserted at QB, and was overwhelmed. He did not get enough help from his team, or coaches. This highlights the question, should Devin Gardner have been moved to wide receiver, as there clearly was no understudy QB prepared? The Nebraska loss took the championship chase out of the Wolverines hands. There were other concerns. There were two straight games with no offensive TDs. No TD’s in the last quarter of the OSU game. There were time management issues sometimes. And there was that perplexing Notre Dame game where errors engendered errors. Some second guessed that, wondering why Denard was not benched for a series to regain some poise in his passing game. But on New Year’s day the offensive scheme was innovative.
Prior to New Year’s Day, this was not the best year for the offensive coaches. Was it ten quarters without a TD? That says a lot. But this loss was truly a team effort, as defense and special teams also contributed heavily.
Because Michigan was in a prime position to challenge for the B1G title game, with Ohio barred from playing in it, it was very disappointing to fans to miss that boat. That ship has sailed, and it is time to move on to next season. That will present its own set of challenges.
DESPITE THIS BOWL LOSS, TEAM 134’S PROSPECTS ARE GOOD:
This is a rising football team, notwithstanding the disappointments of the season just past and the Outback Bowl loss. It was predicted that the season just completed would be a major challenge and it was. I predicted 8 wins and 4 losses, and that did not make me the Lone Ranger, nearly everyone did. Prime games were away from home, and Michigan played AP’s # one, two, and three teams in the country, Notre Dame, Alabama, and Ohio State. There was observable progress on the defensive side of the ball, and aspects of special teams were indeed special. There was the electrifying Denard Robinson show. Receivers sometimes made miracle catches. Offensively Devin Gardner is showing promise at the QB position again. Although Devin’s performance was inconsistent (this was not his best passing day), he contributed a lot in this Bowl game including a magnificent toss for M’s first TD, throwing two more TDs, and running for a 1st down on 3rd down and sneaking 19-yards for another on 4th down.
This team played sixty minutes, and they never gave up. They displayed team unity all season and were all in. Their 8 and 5 record was unwanted, but is nothing to be ashamed of.
The Wolverines still managed to become the first college team to accumulate a total of over 900 wins this season, in spite of losing to the three teams listed above, and Ohio. The level of team talent is improving rapidly. It is still not up to required standards for all position according to the coaches. Receivers and running backs and the OL are examples. They need a talent to be dedicated to pass rushing. There is still significant work to be done on many fronts. As many as 14 youngsters may contribute next year, some significantly, at positions of need, and that does not count freshman. Offensive Linemen Kalis, Bryant, Braden and agnuson may help. It seems Wide Receivers Darboh and Chesson, and NT Ondre Pipkins are on a fast track. Pipkins is going to give Q. Washington a run at the nose tackle. Then there will be the true freshman and there may be a competitive running back among them.
In spring and fall camp, we will get a better feel for these players and many others. Hopefully Fitz Toussaint comes back hale, hearty and bushy tailed.
I think that some young lineman of talent will step into the vacancies on the offensive line, and that may be as many as four. A prime question there is whether Taylor Lewan will return. However it is all is not grim. Recruiting has been good, and some younger players are coming on. The schedule is far more favorable with more home games. The offensive change of scheme and type of scheme problems should all be completely resolved, and in the past. Next year’s offensive scheme’s will be closer to those schemes that both Coaches Hoke and Coach Borges have envisioned.
Fans may be battered at times by losses, large crowds, seat license increases, unhandy parking, high gas prices, high concession prices, weather, goofy TV announcers, and those powerful stripes, but when that team hits the tunnel, Michigan Football is still the best legal excitement that you can get.
Let me know what you think of these columns. My email address is now firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck to the men’s basketball team. We all wondered if Coach Belein’s system and recruiting would work at Michigan. The question has been answered positively already this season.