The Big Ten looked well on its way to finishing the bowl slate without a loss.
And then Michigan imploded.
The Wolverines led South Carolina 19-3 late in the third quarter of the Outback Bowl before the bottom fell out. The Gamecocks scored 20 points in a span of fewer than six minutes, flipping the 16-point deficit into a 23-19 lead with 11:33 to play.
Michigan regained possession on offense three more times but the South Carolina defense held strong, allowing the Gamecocks to emerge with a come-from-behind 26-19 win.
It was a brutal collapse for Jim Harbaugh’s team. The Wolverines led 9-3 at halftime and extended the lead to 19-3 on Quinn Nordin’s fourth field goal of the game. South Carolina scuffled offensively all afternoon to this point, but finally put a drive together, going 77 yards in six plays to cut the lead to 19-9 (a two-point try was no good).
But the Wolverines were still firmly in control — or so they thought.
On the third play of the ensuing drive, Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters fumbled and South Carolina recovered. On the next play, Jake Bentley hit Bryan Edwards for a 21-yard score. All of a sudden, South Carolina was within three.
With the momentum firmly on its side, the Gamecocks defense quickly forced a Michigan punt, allowing the offense to go back to work. Bentley quickly led the team to midfield before finding speedy Shi Smith behind the defense for a 53-yard, go-ahead score.
It proved to be the winning touchdown, but only after Michigan fell on its face a few more times.
Now down 26-23, the Wolverines finally put a drive together and moved all the way to the South Carolina six-yard line. But that first and goal at the six quickly turned into third and goal at the five. And then Peters did this:
Following JaMarcus King’s interception, Michigan was about to get the ball back when its defense quickly forced a punt. However, prized freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones muffed the kick, giving the ball back to the Gamecocks at the UM 14.
South Carolina could only muster a field goal, increasing the lead to 26-19 with 3:47 to play, so the Wolverines still had some life.
Michigan’s offense got two cracks at tying the game, but gained a total of nine yards on eight plays. The last play was a fitting end. Peters, on fourth-and-1 from the UM 40, was intercepted by Steven Montac for Michigan’s fifth turnover of the game. That gaffe sealed the win for South Carolina and gave the Big Ten its first — and only — loss of the bowl season. The conference won seven of its eight postseason games.
The comeback marks the first bowl victory for South Carolina under Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks went 3-9 in 2015 but have a record of 15-11 in two seasons under Muschamp.
South Carolina’s quick turnaround is certainly worth noting, but the bigger story is Michigan. With the amount of talent lost from the 2016 team that came close to a College Football Playoff berth, it was expected the Wolverines would take a step back this year, but going 8-5 with three straight losses to end the year is going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of Michigan fans heading into the offseason.
Michigan is 28-11 under Harbaugh, but is 0-3 against Ohio State, 1-2 against Michigan State, and hasn’t finished higher than third in the Big Ten East.
The pressure is going to be cranked even higher for the Harbaugh and company in 2018.
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