|Denard Robinson had a solid final game as a Wolverine (image via AnnArbor.com)|
J.T. Floyd really hurt his team. I never really cared about the suspension of Hagerup. It was a dumb move on his part, but I really think that Matt Wile is just as talented, if not more so. But Floyd, a fifth year senior, hurt the team in more ways than one. I've said all along that Floyd was susceptible to the deep ball because of his lack of speed, so I don't know that he would have been able to curtail the deep throws that beat Raymon Taylor, Courtney Avery, and Jarrod Wilson. What I do know is that the re-shuffling of the defensive backfield due to Floyd's absence hurt the defense numerous times. Avery is a pretty good slot corner, but he struggles every time the team puts him on the outside. With Floyd out, Avery moved to the outside, safety Thomas Gordon moved down to the slot, and freshman Jarrod Wilson came in to play safety. Floyd's suspension not only hurt the team at his cornerback spot, but it diminished the quality of play at slot corner and safety, too.
Hooray for Al Borges. I didn't agree with every play call or personnel decision by Borges, but he came out with a quality game plan and plenty of wrinkles. Unfortunately, Michigan lacked the horses and the execution to get the job done. There was a Statue of Liberty hand-off to Denard Robinson and a fake jet sweep screen to Devin Funchess; Borges moved Denard Robinson around to QB, RB, FB, and WR; and there were some funky special teams plays concocted by the coaching staff to get first downs. Overall, the players just didn't execute. South Carolina got steady pressure on Devin Gardner, Jadeveon Clowney made a couple key plays, and Gardner missed some open receivers. You can blame some of that stuff on the coordinator, I guess, but a lot of it is on the players.
Holy hell attrition. Out of 24 starters to begin the season, Michigan was missing 5 for the Outback Bowl. Cornerback Blake Countess, Floyd, middle linebacker Kenny Demens, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Hagerup were all out for this game, along with a solid special teamer in Brandin Hawthorne and part-time fullback Stephen Hopkins. Running back Thomas Rawls also missed the game, and quarterback Denard Robinson could muster only one measly pass attempt because of his elbow injury. I know excuses are lame, but the Outback Bowl squad was really just a shell of what it was on September 1. South Carolina was banged up some (their starting running back and right tackle), but their losses were fewer. In a game decided with 11 seconds left, it's quite possible the outcome would have been different if a couple of those guys were still available.
Denard needed new cleats. Robinson has always tested the laws of gravity with the way he leans to cut back, but I didn't see anyone else having a problem with the footing yesterday. I'm not sure why he struggled so much, but there were some plays available that he just didn't make because he slipped and fell. I thought they had the issue fixed after a couple carries in the second half, but then he want back to looking like he was playing football on ice.
Penalties were a problem. Michigan only had four penalties, but they netted South Carolina an additional 55 yards. These weren't 5-yard offsides or illegal procedure calls. Taylor Lewan took two big penalties, Joe Bolden made a silly late hit on Connor Shaw, and Ricky Barnum grabbed a defensive lineman's facemask and held on for the duration of the play. Lewan was a penalty machine in 2010, got rid of those tendencies in 2011, and seems to have regressed now in 2012. I like Lewan a lot and I know he's probably gone for the NFL, but I think he had a better season last year.
Running back is a gaping void. There has been some recent buzz about Drake Johnson, who redshirted this season, but otherwise, the running back position is wide open for 2013. Running backs Vincent Smith and Justice Hayes combined for just 8 carries and 6 yards; Rawls didn't play at all; Toussaint will be coming off a nasty broken leg.. Johnson is a bit of a wild card, but none of these guys look like starter material except a healthy Toussaint. Wyatt Shallman isn't the answer, either, so I'm hoping DeVeon Smith is better than I expect or that Derrick Green commits in the next month.
Greg Mattison has had better days. He was sort of hamstrung by a lack of personnel, but I wasn't a fan of Mattison's strategy late in the game. He was sending blitzes because he realized that his defensive backs aren't very good, but Michigan appeared to be doing better when they rushed two or three guys and put eight or nine back in coverage. It was a mistake to count on his young cornerbacks and athletically limited safeties to hold up when they've been burned again and again. If it's me in that situation, I put four guys deep, rush three, and hope that South Carolina can only complete a short pass. They were 0/2 on field goals up to that point, and that kicker's confidence had to be waning. Make them complete something short, and then force them to chuck something into the end zone or try a pressure-packed field goal.
Overall, a slightly disappointing season. The schedule was tough. Michigan's four regular season losses came against teams that were 46-4 prior to yesterday; two of those teams are playing for the national championship, and another went 12-0 but was banned from the postseason. But Michigan had very real chances to beat Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State, and couldn't pull out any of those close games. The season ended with another close loss to a solid but flawed South Carolina team. I predicted a 9-3 year, and I predicted the loss to South Carolina, so my projection would have been 9-4. Not a huge difference from 8-5, but five losses is too many. Next year should be better, though.