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In the aftermath of the game that was so ripe for the taking after seeming so far out of reach early, there is a lot of talk of "deserve". That these seniors deserve to go out on top. That this team deserves to beat a great opponent after all the narrow and unfortunate losses that we have watched this year. There's just one thing. As William Munny would say: Deserve's got nothing to do with it.
I have found that over the last couple years my relationship with Michigan football has changed. It isn't as emotionally fraught or combative as it was a few years ago. My college self -- wrapped tightly in the tense end of the Lloyd Carr era -- probably felt entitled to witness something that wasn't ever going to happen. The national championship I pined for in both 2006 and 2007 seems farther off upon reflection years later than what I thought heading in to both seasons.
The next three years of Rich Rodriguez were just spent trying to orient myself to this new reality, and come to terms with the outsized expectations I had in my head and the real, systemic problems that cropped up in different places. It was a rough time for all of us, and I'm sure we all said some things we wish we could take back.
But the last two years have been a mellowing period for me. If Brady Hoke has brought anything to this team and its fanbase, it is a calming influence. An overwhelming sense that in the end, everything is okay, and that someone is in control. So much so that when I watch these games I do it quietly and calmly. I pump my fist at big plays and grumble at opposing touchdowns, but I am far from the insufferable mess I was a few years ago. I can actually watch a football game in a bar, around other people. We've come a long way, Brady.
But it is hard to tell if all of this calming has been because of or in spite of a growing sense of harsh realism when I look at this team. I love Devin Gardner, but I know he is a ways away from being the type of quarterback that can consistently control a game. I want to see a running game, but know that the offensive line isn't capable of consistently opening holes, and only Denard Robinson can ever do anything back there anyway. I think the world of Greg Mattison and this defense, but I'm not ever going to look at Michigan's first twelve games, the pass yards allowed average, and the level of competition and not worry that this was a secondary that was largely untested.
So when someone says Michigan deserved this win, it just kind of rolls off my back. Michigan allowed eight yards per play, gave up three plays over 50 yards, and still couldn't get any consistent pressure on the quarterback. When that same quarterback gashed the defense with the zone-read, Michigan's only recourse was to move a safety into the box for run support, which opened up the middle of the field for passes over the top. None of its new. We've seen it for the last couple years in different places.
We all wanted better for this team, but the season ends at a very appropriate 8-5. This was a good team, capable of pulling off thrilling wins over good teams (NU, MSU), but not consistent enough to hang with great teams. This is a team that lost to five teams with a combined record of 57-6 and only beat two teams over .500 (and even those games were largely in doubt until very late).
The road ahead is bright, but if anything, this game feels like an appropriate cap on a season that shows just how long that road is going to be.
But this game -- a decent bowl, but not a prized one -- never really was about the verdict. That will fade into footnote soon enough. Rather, it was about the past and future meeting one final time. A future that will be without Denard Robinson, who became an icon as Michigan's star quarterback.
Michigan entered the 2013 Outback Bowl with the second-best pass defense in America, as the Wolverines had allowed an average of just 155.2 yards per contest through the season's first 12 games. On Tuesday -- with Michigan playing without suspended senior corner J.T. Floyd -- South Carolina laughed at that number, posting more than half of that during the first quarter alone.
Michigan Football Blog: A Familiar Ending - Maize and Blue Nation
As Brady Hoke said on his first day on the job in Ann Arbor, "Football is a tough man's game", and Michigan found that out yesterday for the 5th time this season. It's not that Michigan isn't a tough football team. They just played tougher teams who found ways to win. Michigan played the toughest teams in the land, and found out the hard way where they stand nationally compared to the best of the best. When it's all said and done, Michigan's 5 losses this season will come from teams with a combined record of 57-6.
Finale - Hoover Street Rag
But you know, I've come to accept that this happens. This is what happens when you have holes in your depth from a previous regime, when you face a difficult road schedule, when you have gaps on your lines. You can outscheme, you can maximize your talent, and sometimes, you can pull off miracles. But you cannot expect miracles, less they become less miraculous. But what I love about college football is as much about the flaws as it is about perfection. Denard Robinson was never the greatest pure passing quarterback, but when I think back about him, I'm not going to remember the shaky passes off the back foot, I'm going to remember the bursts, the cuts, the way he slaps the turf every time he gets tackled, as if he believed in his mind he was just one quick cut away from breaking it for another touchdown. But yes, there were flaws, and we can spend time pondering whether the coaches should have reevaluated the talent situation back in the spring. But that's hindsight and it gets you nowhere. You can make every case every which way about what could have been, what might have been, but in the end, 8-5, losses to the two national title game participants, an undefeated Ohio State team, and very good Nebraska and South Carolina teams.
Five plays that changed the game - Maize and Blue News
Sneaky Gardner – Trailing 21-16 late in the third quarter, Michigan faced a situation similar to that which started the downfall in the Ohio State game. The Wolverines were on their own side of midfield, confronted with a fourth down and one play, when head coach Brady Hoke decided to go for it. Unlike the previous game where Denard Robinson was stuffed on a designed run out of the shotgun, Gardner lined up under center and went straight ahead on the quarterback sneak. South Carolina was likely expecting the Michigan signal caller to turn and hand the ball off, which allowed Gardner to burst forward for a 19 yard gain. The run put the Wolverines in solid scoring position, and five plays later the Maize and Blue had their first lead of the contest. Had Michigan not picked up the first down, it would have handed South Carolina excellent field position and all of the momentum.
Michigan had a fresh set of downs at its 41, hoping to add to its lead. Devin Gardner snapped the ball. The big play -- the big hit -- came almost instantaneously, showing once again why Clowney is the most unstoppable defensive force in college football. Clowney barreled through the line untouched and smacked Vincent Smith so viciously, both Smith’s helmet and the ball went flying.
"It sounded like a car wreck," South Carolina defensive tackle J.T. Surratt said.
Outback Bowl: South Carolina 33, Michigan 28 - CBSSports.com
HOW SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Including the game-winner, all five of the Gamecocks' touchdowns came either on a big play or as a direct result of one, beginning with a 56-yard strike from starting QB Connor Shaw to Damiere Byrd on the third play from scrimmage. A few minutes later, Carolina extended its lead to 14-3 courtesy of a 54-yard punt return by Ace Sanders, who would add two more touchdowns on receptions from Thompson in the second quarter and Shaw in the fourth. Despite shuffling both quarterbacks throughout the game -- and despite no help whatsoever from a non-existent ground game -- the Gamecocks racked up 341 yards passing on 36 attempts, six of which covered at least 20 yards.