Jim Harbaugh talks about how Michigan was unable to grow its lead against South Carolina. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Tampa, Fla. – Michigan’s bowl game was supposed to be a springboard into the upcoming season, but the Wolverines will want to leave this one behind.
The Wolverines imploded in the second half and allowed a 19-3 lead late in the third quarter evaporate. South Carolina scored 23 unanswered points while shutting out the Wolverines in the fourth quarter to win 26-19 in the Outback Bowl on Monday.
Michigan succumbed to five second-half turnovers. South Carolina took control of the game, scoring three consecutive touchdowns, including one off a Michigan fumble, to take a 23-19 lead with 11:33 left in the game. Jake Bentley hit Shi Smith on a 53-yard pass for a lead the Gamecocks never relinquished.
The Wolverines finished the season 8-5 and marred the Big Ten’s unblemished bowl record entering the day.
The Big Ten finished 7-1 in bowl games.
“They got better as the game went on, no doubt, and made plays to win the game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We didn't get the knockout punch when we needed it. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities that were there.”
Kicker Quinn Nordin was 4-for-4 on field goals for Michigan. Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters was 20-of-44 for 186 yards and two interceptions, the first of his college career. Michigan had 277 yards, including 74 rushing. South Carolina had 300 yards, including 61 rushing.
Peters who started late this season and then missed the Ohio State game after suffering a concussion the week before at Wisconsin, was hoping to make a statement in the bowl. He played behind a newly-configured offensive line that lost two starters during bowl practices, one to injury and one for undisclosed reasons, and then at center, after starter Patrick Kugler could not keep playing because of an ankle problem suffered during the week, Stephen Spanellis filled in.
Michigan QB discusses his performance in team's 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Angelique S. Chengelis
“I didn’t execute well at all, especially in the second half,” Peters said. “I put a lot of that on me. Not well, that’s for sure. But I’m not going to let it define who I am as a player. Just learn from it. Move forward.
“They just brought good pressure all day. Their defensive front was strong. Their defensive backs were covering well. They were a really physical team.”
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said no one rallied the Gamecocks on the sideline while they trailed 19-3.
“No, I wish those worked,” Muschamp said. “I'd be good at them, but they don't. No, I think that it's 365 days a year how you run your program and the culture of your program, and our guys understanding at halftime we're at 9-3. We gave them three short fields. We actually moved the ball decently well against a very good Michigan defense.
“But, you know, at the end of the day, we play for 60 minutes, and our guys understand that, and they keep chomping and they keep hanging in there, and they realize when you have Jake Bentley and you have Hayden Hurst and you have Bryan Edwards and you have some guys that are able to make some plays, and those guys are eventually going to make some plays for us, and that's why you just keep playing.”
After the Gamecocks (9-4) took the lead, Michigan responded with a long drive and reached the South Carolina 5-yard line. On third-and-5, Peters was looking for Donovan Peoples-Jones in the end zone when he was intercepted with 7:53 left in the game.
The Wolverines continued to spiral when, on a punt return, the ball bounced off the right shoulder pad of Peoples-Jones. South Carolina recovered at the Michigan 14-yard line.
“We gave up too many opportunities,” running back Karan Higdon said. “We had them right where we wanted them. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. We had some great looks, just didn’t capitalize.”
South Carolina missed a 48-yard field goal with just under two minutes left, giving Michigan one last chance. But on fourth down, Peters was picked off with 1:05 left.
After a dreary offensive first half, Michigan opened the second with an efficient drive that featured a back-shoulder throw to Nico Collins from Peters for 13 yards, followed by a 27-yard deep pass to Kekoa Crawford. Peters, who was not given great protection in the first half, took big hits on both of those throws. Higdon powered to a 16-yard gain and freshman fullback Ben Mason scored from one yard for a 16-3 lead.
Jim Harbaugh discusses some of the mistakes Michigan made in the Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Michigan appeared ready to add to its lead when Noah Furbush intercepted a pass that had deflected off the helmet of Khaleke Hudson, who was defending the intended receiver. Furbush returned it 27 yards to the South Carolina 27-yard line. Targeting was called against the Gamecocks after a completion to Peoples-Jones and Michigan had the ball at the 9-yard line. It could have been a pivotal score for the Wolverines at that point, but Higdon then had a critical fumble.
“It was hard run, and they were holding me up,” said Higdon, who had 65 yards on 17 carries. “I was trying to get down, couldn’t do it. Big 93 (Ulric Jones) was holding me up. I’ve got to do better. There’s no excuse. It happened. I’ll learn from it.”
South Carolina didn’t take advantage, however, and on Michigan’s next possession, Nordin added a 48-yard field goal for a 19-3 lead.
But then things got interesting. A late hit was called on Josh Metellus, extending a South Carolina drive the culminated with a touchdown to pull within 19-9. Devin Bush defended the two-point conversion try.
The Gamecocks got the ball right back when Peters and tight end Sean McKeon fumbled a handoff, turning it over at the Michigan 21-yard line. They scored on the next play, closing the gap at 19-16.
"They got better as the game went on," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of South Carolina. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
“They made a really good throw, really good catch on the touchdown. Made another spectacular throw and catch on the second touchdown pass,” Harbaugh said, explaining how the game slipped away. “Yeah, they executed well, really well, and then our errors, really starting with the fumble by Sean McKeon, which was not Sean McKeon's fault. That was our fault. That was a coaching error. We had the wrong personnel in there, and I should have called timeout.”
The offensive line, which had problems all season, had a new look. Mason Cole was at left tackle for his 51st start, but left guard Ben Bredson missed the game because of injury and Michael Onwenu started in his place. Patrick Kugler made his final collegiate start at center, but was slowed by an injury suffered in practices and was replaced by Stephen Spanellis. Freshman Cesar Ruiz made his fifth start at right guard, and Jon Runyan started at right tackle. Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who had been the starter at right tackle, was not at the game, along with running back Kareem Walker, for undisclosed reasons.
Offensive line aside, and Peters’ struggles and the mounting turnovers, after building a substantial lead, once South Carolina gained momentum, Michigan could never swing it back.
“I always think that just making the play when you've got the other team down, a chance to grow your lead, take advantage of those things,” Harbaugh said. “But we weren't able to do that. Kind of let them hang around and they took advantage of it.”
Khaleke Hudson led the Michigan defense with 10 tackles, including a sack. Mike McCray led the team with four tackles for loss in his final college game. Chase Winovich and Ambry Thomas each had a fumble recovery.
Michigan’s defense, a key special teams play and Nordin’s leg kept the Wolverines above water in the first half. Nordin made field goals from 35 and 26 yards, and from 45 as time expired in the half.
Michigan running back discusses team's 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Angelique S. Chengelis