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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Outback Bowl

January 6, 2013

Denard Outback Bowl

 

THE GOOD

  • We’ve Come a Long Way Since September – On Labor Day weekend, Michigan was embarrassed by Alabama in Texas.  There’s no other way to slice it.  We clearly we’re outclassed, and it was clear to anyone watching that Michigan wasn’t in the same league as the defending national champions.  I’m not going to use yesterday’s performance to try and prove that we’re suddenly as good as Alabama, but South Carolina is no slouch themselves.  They went 11-2 playing in the SEC, and but for a 3 point loss to LSU, would have played for the SEC Championship, and maybe the National Championship.  South Carolina isn’t Alabama – but they are close.  Which means that Michigan’s close loss yesterday means that we’re a lot closer to being where we want to be than we think.  We not only competed with South Carolina, we arguably outplayed them for most of the game, and certainly outcoached them.   And had we had one more sack on that final drive, we’d all be celebrating today.  I generally don’t believe in moral victories, but this one might just count.  When you consider where we started and where we finished, there’s a lot to be excited about in Ann Arbor.
  • Taylor Lewan – There’s good news and there’s bad news when it comes to Taylor Lewan.  The good news is that he went toe to toe with the best defensive lineman in college; a guy who would be the first player taken in the draft this April if he was eligible to go pro, and he won more than his share of the battles.  The bad news, it was most likely Lewan’s last game in a Michigan uniform.   His performance against Clowney virtually guaranteed him a Top 15 spot in April’s NFL Draft.  And he could go higher.  He proved that he is an elite left tackle, and he’s going to be rewarded very handsomely for it.  Good for him.  Selfishly I wish he’d stick around another year, but he has to go pro.
  • Al Borges – Sometime between halftime of the Ohio State game and the beginning of the Outback Bowl, Al Borges found his playbook.  And I’m pretty sure he used all of it yesterday.   In addition to the Nebraska and OSU games last year, this was by far Gorgeous Al’s best game as Michigan’s Offensive Coordinator.  I said in my preview my hope was to get Denard a significant amount of touches – he ended up with 25 touches, most of them as a running back.  I would’ve liked to see Denard attempt a couple of more passes, but maybe he wasn’t capable.  In any case, South Carolina came into this game giving up 17 points on defense.  We put up a more than respectable 28 with an average offensive line going up against a top defensive line and without a pure running back getting carries.  And had Devin Gardner been more accurate, it could have been another 10-14 points.  We kept South Carolina on their heels, threw out some inventive fakes, and overall mixed it up enough that I’m back on the Borges bandwagon.  His biggest task in the offseason will be working with Gardner on his footwork.  If he can improve there, watch out.
  • Jeremy Gallon –  Speaking of Devin – its clear his favorite target is Jeremy Gallon.  Gallon had a career high 9 catches for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns.  And as mentioned above, had Gardner been more accurate, it might have been more. Gallon showed that despite his short frame (maybe 5’10” at best), he is a great route runner, can go up and get the ball in traffic, and has good hands.  Like Roy Roundtree a couple of years ago, he just delivers.  He was great in the Outback Bowl, and will be an asset next year. 

THE BAD

  • Goodbye Denard – This isn’t the way it was supposed to end.  Though he rushed for 100 yards, Denard Robinson, the most prolific player in Michigan history, was on the bench for the final offensive play, hoping like the rest of us that the Michigan offense could pull off a miracle.  They didn’t, and despite his made for SportsCenter career, Denard finished his career as a starting running back and backup QB.  For what its worth, he did pass Pat White as the all-time leading rusher for a quarterback in FBS history.  He also proved to NFL scouts that there is a future for him at the next level at another position.  Denard showed vision and toughness running the ball and given what we know about his speed, don’t be surprised if some time reaches up into the 1st round to take him April.  Either way, he’ll be on an NFL roster next fall.  Unfortunately, he won’t be on a Michigan roster.  In the end, the highlight runs lead to some great accomplishments: two comeback wins over Notre Dame (including perhaps the most exciting game in Michigan Stadium history), the first win over Ohio State in 8 tries, and a BCS bowl victory.  More importantly, he’s the only player I’ve rooted for since Barry Sanders knowing that ANYTHING could happen when he had the ball.  In the end there were no championships, no Heisman Trophy, and no happy ending, but I think we’ll all miss Shoelace. 
  • Wasted Fakes – Nobody can question Brady Hoke’s commitment to win this game and pull out all the stops to do so.  Two fakes – one each on a punt and a field goal – were gutsy calls.  Unfortunately, Michigan couldn’t really capitalize.  On the field goal, Michigan did pick up the first down, but essentially turned a long but makeable field goal into a shorter one which they made.  On the fake punt, it was incredibly gutsy to fake it up one point on their own side of the field.  And despite the controversial measurement, the refs did give Michigan the first down.  But it was wasted, and actually turned into a detriment when Javedeon Clowney destroyed poor Vincent Smith on the next play.  Essentially it was as if Michigan didn’t pick up the first down.  I thought both were reasonable calls, but they are only worth it if you take advantage of their success.  Michigan didn’t. 

THE UGLY

  • Big Plays – If you had told me that Michigan would score 28 points against South Carolina, I would’ve basically guaranteed victory.  I was sure the Michigan defense could hold South Carolina under 24 points at least.  Of course I didn’t expect Michigan to give up more big plays than they had all season.  In addition to the punt return for a touchdown (a huge play as it turns out), Michigan gave up 6 plays that accounted for 290 of South Carolina’s 426 yards.  Read that sentence again – 70% of their yards came on 11% of their 53 plays. On the remaining 47 plays, South Carolina only averaged 2.89 yards per play.  Of those six big plays, three of them went for touchdowns and one setup a short touchdown.  Had Michigan just prevented just one more big play, they would’ve won the game.   Most of the blame falls to the secondary, where Michigan was missing J.T. Floyd, and unfortunately Jordan Kovacs had one of his worst games as a Wolverine.  But a better pass rush maybe prevented a couple of the downfield pass completions, including  on the last drive where Michigan had several chances to sack the QB but could not.  Greg Mattison prides himself on a defense that forces opponents to work their way down the field, but he went away from that approach several times by blitzing.  Not coincidentally, when those blitzes were unsuccessful, South Carolina was able to capitalize.    In hindsight, I’m sure Mattison wishes he had just stuck to his base defense – and so do I. 
  • The Record – So as it turns out, Michigan suffered 5 losses this year to 4 of the top teams in the country.  Alabama and Notre Dame play for the championship Monday night; Ohio State went unbeaten; South Carolina finished 11-2 in the SEC with losses only to LSU and at Florida.  Even Nebraska, though finishing the season with two losses, won 10 games.  Combined, these five teams went an incredible 57-7.  Throw in the fact that none of these games were at home and that Michigan had a chance to win the closing minutes in 3 of them and probably lost the other because of an injury to their starting QB, and there really is no shame in finishing 8-5.  Except one problem – since 1969 or AS (“After Schembechler”), this is only the 3rd Michigan team not coached by Rich Rodriguez to lose 5 or more games.  The others – the 1984 team that went 6-6 after Jim Harbaugh broke his arm and the 2005 team that finished 7-5.  The good news – the 1985 team went 10-1-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl and the 2006 team started 11-0 before losing to Ohio State and then USC in the Rose Bowl.  2012 was plagued by a brutal schedule and few unfortunate injuries – 2013 will hopefully be the opposite.       
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