TAMPA, Fla. — Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters wanted to make a statement in the Outback Bowl on Monday.
Instead, that statement sounded more like a whimper. There were a couple lone, primal screams when Michigan built a 16-point lead against South Carolina in the third quarter, but the Gamecocks extinguished Peters’ cries as they rallied for a 26-19 win against the Wolverines.
The Outback Bowl was Peters’ best opportunity to affirm his spot as a contender to become Michigan’s starting quarterback in 2018. His audition proved he still needs some work. So does Michigan, for that matter.
But in solely discussing Michigan’s future at quarterback, some would argue that instead of emerging as a legitimate candidate to become a starter, Peters may have solidified his status as a backup behind incoming transfer Shea Patterson — whose eligibility for 2018 still has yet to be determined.
Or Peters may become more motivated. At least he says so.
“This will light a fire under me,” Peters said. “Just take everything that’s happened this year and learn from it and just take it into next year. And be better.”
In the same way he backs his other quarterbacks, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t publicly fault Peters.
“There’s some really good [in Peters], and there’s a few I’d know he’d like to have back,” Harbaugh said. “But he was battling, just like the rest of the guys. There was some error there, a little too much at the wrong time.”
From breakout to breakdown
Peters is a soft-spoken guy, but the lilt in Peters’ voice after the loss Monday at Raymond James Stadium was a far cry from the confidence he projected last week, when he aimed to make the most of his final start of the season.
“Playing against a good SEC team, an 8-4 team, being able to have a breakout game and play well, that will make a huge statement,” Peters said Thursday, during Outback Bowl practices.
Four days later, the hopes for a breakout became a full-on breakdown for the Wolverines.
Peters finished 20-of-44 passing for a season-best 186 yards yet was intercepted twice in a second half in which Michigan (8-5) turned the ball over 5 times.
Peters’ first half? A pedestrian 11-of-23 passing for 76 yards. He opened the second half, however, on a tear. Peters went 4-of-4 passing for 54 yards on Michigan’s first drive of the third quarter and steered the Wolverines to a seven-play drive that ended with Ben Mason’s 1-yard touchdown — Michigan’s only touchdown — for a 16-3 lead.
Quinn Nordin gave the Wolverines a 19-3 lead on his fourth field goal with 5:42 left in the third quarter … and then the walls came tumbling down. South Carolina scored 23 unanswered points in the final 22:25. That is more than a point a minute.
In that same time, Peters botched a handoff to tight end Sean McKeon late in the third quarter. South Carolina’s fumble recovery set up Bryan Edwards’ 21-yard touchdown catch on its first play from scrimmage, which cut Michigan’s lead to 19-16. Less than 4 minutes into the fourth, Shi Smith gave the Gamecocks their first lead on a 53-yard touchdown catch, after Michigan lost 3 yards on its first drive of the fourth quarter.
With about a minute left, South Carolina’s Steven Montac intercepted Peters on fourth down from the Michigan 40 and sealed Michigan’s third consecutive loss.
If it bothered Peters, he didn’t show it. About an hour after the game, Peters insisted he’d moved on from the bowl game.
“I’m already over it,” he said.
With that in mind, Peters made a resolution for 2018.
“Just learn from everything this past season and just keep working,” Peters said. “That’s the only thing you can do.
“Don’t listen to the outside noise. Don’t let anything define you. Just keep your head down and just keep moving forward.”
Peters should be prepared: If you’re a Michigan quarterback, there will be plenty of outside noise. Unless you create your own noise.