For the last four years, the Michigan offense, led by Denard Robinson has been a big play waiting to happen. On Tuesday afternoon, in Denard’s swan song, it was the South Carolina offense that took advantage of big play after big play to beat Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl. None was bigger than a 32-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left to serve as the winning score.
In the first quarter, it looked as if South Carolina was going to run away with the game, as Connor Shaw hit Damiere Byrd for a 56-yard touchdown on the third play of the game. Michigan answered with a 39-yard field goal two drives later. Carolina forced Michigan to punt on its next possession, but Ace Sanders returned the punt 63 yards for a touchdown to put SC ahead 14-3. It was the first punt return Michigan had allowed for a touchdown since Ohio State’s Ted Ginn in 2004.
Michigan put together a 11-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Drew Dileo to bring Michigan within four. But South Carolina once again used a big play to set up a score. A 70-yard pass from Thompson to Nick Jones gave the Gamecocks a first-and-goal on the Michigan four, and on the next play, Thompson connected with Sanders for a touchdown to put SC ahead 21-10.
On South Carolina’s next possession, Mario Ojemudia forced a Kenny Miles fumble that was recovered by Jake Ryan at the SC 31. Michigan advanced to the 16, but Gardner was sacked on 3rd-and-6, forcing Michigan to kick a 40-yard field goal. On that drive, Michigan converted a fake field goal for a first down when Dileo ran seven yards on 4th-and-6. South Carolina took a 21-13 lead into the half.
Michigan went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half, and on South Carolina’s second play, Shaw rushed 64 yards to the Michigan 11. After three incompletions, the Gamecocks lined up for a 33-yard field goal and missed.
Michigan put together an 11-play drive that ended in a 52- yard field goal by Matt Wile to pull within 21-16. When South Carolina got the ball back, it faced a 4th-and-7 on the Michigan 35 and Steve Spurrier elected to go for it. The Michigan pressure forced Shaw to roll to his right, and as he tried to pump fake, the ball slipped out of his hands and went out of bounds. Michigan took over and drove 65 yards in nine plays and took the lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Jeremy Gallon. The Wolverines converted a 4th-and-1 on the drive, when Gardner romped through the middle for a 19-yard gain. The two-point attempt failed and Michigan held a 22-21 lead as the fourth quarter began.
South Carolina put together a 10-play drive to open the fourth, but Michigan blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt. Michigan then faced a 4th-and-4 from its own 37 and ran a fake punt that appeared to be just millimeters short. But the refs ruled it a first down, and after reviewing the play, upheld the call. On the very next play, All-American SC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney made the biggest play of the game, bolting untouched into the backfield and slamming Vincent Smith just as he received the handoff. The hit knocked Smith’s helmet into the air and the ball to the ground, and Clowney recovered, giving the Gamecocks the ball at the Michigan 31.
One play later, Shaw found Sanders for a 31- yard touchdown pass to give SC the lead once again. The two-point conversion was no good and SC led 27-22 with 8:06 remaining.
Not to be outdone, Michigan mounted a 10-play, 64-yard drive that was capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Gallon on 3rd-and-13. Once again, the two-point conversion attempt failed, and Michigan held a 28-27 lead with 3:29 to play.
South Carolina too over on its own 30, and three plays later found itself facing a 4th-and-3. But Shaw connected with Sanders for a six-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Six plays later, SC was had a 2nd-and-10 at the Michigan 32, and that’s when Thompson connected with Ellington for the winning touchdown.
Michigan’s last second comeback attempt failed when Gardner’s pass was incomplete, and South Carolina won 33-28.
Gardner finished the day 18-of-36 for 214 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Denard led all rushers with 23 carries for 100 yards, while Gallon caught nine passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. As a team, Michigan gained 355 yards, but gave up 426.
Denard finished his career as the all-time FBS leader for rushing yards by a quarterback and also second in Michigan career rushing yards behind only Mike Hart. Roy Roundtree finished his career sixth in career receiving yards, just behind Mario Manningham.
Michigan falls to 20-22 all-time in bowl games and 23-8-1 all-time against SEC schools. Stay tuned for continued coverage, analysis, and a look ahead to next season in the days and weeks to come.