Michigan led South Carolina 19-3 in the third quarter of the 2018 Outback Bowl, but the Gamecocks forced 5 turnovers in the second half and rallied for a 26-19 victory against the Wolverines at Raymond James Stadium.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters completed 20 of 44 passes for 186 yards but threw 2 interceptions in the fourth quarter. Freshman wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones caught 6 passes for 58 yards but fumbled a punt deep in Michigan territory with 5:43 left in regulation that led to a South Carolina field goal and the final margin of victory.
South Carolina took the lead for good on a 53-yard pass from quarterback Jake Bentley to wide receiver Shi Smith with 11:33 left in the fourth quarter.
Michigan ends the season 8-5, while South Carolina is 9-4.
What it means
It will be a long offseason for Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh, one full of questions regarding the team’s toughness and ability to compete for a Big Ten title. The Wolverines went 1-5 against teams that ended the season with a winning record. That one win was at Purdue on Sept. 23.
3 things we learned
1. The Michigan passing game has a long way to go
The good news for Wolverines fans is that Michigan attempted to pass the ball and not just wait around for obvious passing situations. The bad news is that completing those passes remains an issue. Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters connected on just 11 of 23 passes for 76 yards in the first half as the Wolverines twice settled for field goals after coming up with South Carolina fumbles and reaching the red zone. Peters went 4 for 4 for 54 yards on the first possession of the second half, a drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by freshman fullback Ben Mason. That gave Michigan a 16-3 lead, but the offense stagnated the next four possessions, producing just 44 yards, losing 2 fumbles and again having to settle for a Nordin field goal after starting a drive at the South Carolina 32.
Peters threw an interception in the fourth quarter on third-and-goal when the Wolverines trailed 23-19 and had a chance to either regain the lead or cut the deficit to 1 point.
2. Red zone = difference
Michigan struggled in the red zone offensively all season, so it did so again in the Outback Bowl. Michigan had 5 possessions in the red zone and came away with more missed points than points. Two turnovers and as many field goals weren’t nearly enough to get the job done.
3. Orange is a good color for the maize and blue
What started as a challenge by defensive end Chase Winovich to help raise $15,000 for the ChadTough Foundation turned into a much bigger movement that raised more than $200,000 in the fight against the childhood cancer DIPG. This had nothing to do with the outcome of the game, but the relationship between Michigan and ChadTough is one to be proud of for both parties.
Don Brown drawing up a great blitz with a great mustache to lead to that INT!
— ChadTough Foundation (@chadtough) January 1, 2018
Player of the game
LB T.J. Brunson, South Carolina
Brunson finished the game with 13 tackles, 9 unassisted, and 2 for loss, to lead a South Carolina defense that stifled Michigan and enabled the Gamecocks to rally for the victory with the final 23 points of the game.
Play of the game
Running back Karan Higdon lost a fumble at the South Carolina 4-yard line with 7:49 left to play in the third quarter. Michigan led 16-3 at the time. South Carolina didn’t go anywhere after recovering the fumble, but it cost the Wolverines at least a field goal and possibly a touchdown. It gave South Carolina life, and the Gamecocks took advantage.
Offseason workouts and spring practice. Michigan will find out from the NCAA whether quarterback Shea Patterson will be granted immediate eligibility to play in 2018 or if he has to sit out a year as a transfer, but regardless the Wolverines have a top priority of improving the offense. That starts with the offensive line but whoever wins the quarterback job has to raise the level of the passing game. Opposing defenses didn’t fear it in 2017. They must at least respect it in 2018 if Michigan is to contend for the Big Ten title.