Senior Michigan offensive lineman reflects team's prospects for next season after disappointing 26-19 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina. Angelique S. Chengelis
Tampa, Fla. — Michigan’s offensive line play has been an issue throughout the season, and during the Outback Bowl game, things didn’t change even with several new players in the lineup.
Mason Cole made his 51st start for the Wolverines, starting at left tackle, but Michael Onwenu, who started the season at right guard, played left guard, in place of Ben Bredeson, injured during bowl practices several weeks ago.
Starting center Patrick Kugler left the game early because of a lingering ankle issue from bowl practice. Stephen Spanellis filled in for Kugler, while freshman Cesar Ruiz made his fifth start at right guard, and Jon Runyan started at right tackle. Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who had been starting there, was not available for undisclosed reasons.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said they were aware three weeks ago that Bredeson would be unable to play in the bowl, and Kugler had his ankle rolled in practice.
“(He) gave it a go and was doing fine,” Harbaugh said of Kugler. “But just felt like it was too much to overcome.”
Cole said having changed up offensive line was not an issue.
“Coach (Tim) Drevno and the staff does a great job of always mixing guys (in practice), so we were fine,” Cole said.
Quarterback Brandon Peters took two sacks but endured several big hits throughout the game.
“That’s just part of it,” Peters said. “You’ve got to work on getting the ball out quick. I just tried to stay in there. Taking hits is something you need to do sometimes.”
Issuing an apology
Redshirt freshman Quinn Nordin, who tied an Outback Bowl record with four field goals, issued an apology after the game via Twitter.
South Carolina called a timeout as Nordin was about to attempt a 45-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. He actually did go through with the kick, although it obviously didn’t count. After he did make it, giving Michigan a 9-3 halftime lead, Nordin was captured by television cameras jawing toward the South Carolina sideline while grabbing his crotch.
Nordin apologized after the game: “In the heat of today’s game, I let my emotions get the best of me. I made an inappropriate gesture and for that I apologize. I will grow and learn from this and will work on conducting myself in a more mindful manner.”
Higdon considering options
Karan Higdon finished the season six yards short of 1,000 and while it’s more than likely he’ll return next season, he was asked if he has considered leaving.
“That’s a discussion I’ll have with coach Harbaugh, and I’ll make a decision from there,” Higdon said.
He said he doesn’t know when he will meet with Harbaugh and said while he’s been having conversations about it, he was more concerned about the Outback Bowl.
Michigan running back discusses team's 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Angelique S. Chengelis
“(I) was strictly focusing on this game and whatever happens, happens,” Higdon said.
Higdon had a critical fumble in the third quarter at the South Carolina 4-yard line. Had Michigan been able to score there, its lead would have increased to 23-3.
“It was a hard run, and they were holding me up,” Higdon said. “I was trying to get down, couldn’t do it. Big 93 was holding me up. I’ve got to do better. There’s no excuse. It happened. I’ll learn from it.”
Higdon said he learned a lot about himself and his teammates during the Outback Bowl.
“I’m a fighter. I knew that, but today really showed me,” Higdon said. “A lot of guys fumble in a key possession like that, I felt like I had a touchdown taken away. There were a lot of things going against me today, personally, and I kept going. I was cramping, kept going. I also learned my team is behind me 100 percent, and I love that, and I’m looking forward to next season.”