New year, same Michigan.
In one of the uglier games of an aesthetically unpleasant season, the Wolverines never managed to cobble together a coherent offense, and five-second half turnovers beget 23 unanswered points for South Carolina.
Quarterback Brandon Peters, playing behind a line down three starters by halftime, never looked comfortable. Factoring in two sacks, Peters averaged only 3.7 yards per dropback and missed a number of throws, including two late interceptions to seal the loss. Michigan fared little better on the ground, gaining all of 2.9 yards per carry.
While the Jim Harbaugh takes will reach a level of scorching usually reserved for large celestial bodies, it's fair to criticize the playcalling, which didn't do much to take the pressure off Peters or Don Brown's futilely amazing defense. No single call was responsible for the loss, but the third-and-short handoff to tight end Sean McKeon, fumbled for a South Carolina recovery, defied explanation until Harbaugh, taking responsibility, said after the game that Michigan had the wrong personnel on the field.
That play was just one in a series of mistakes that turned a 19-3 second-half lead into a 26-19 loss. Karan Higdon fumbled inside the South Carolina five-yard line with the Wolverines leading 16-3 and poised to blow the game wide open. After Michigan added a field goal and SC responded their first touchdown drive, McKeon's fumble gave the Gamecocks the ball on the M 21; they needed one play to score again, with Jake Bentley's pass to Bryan Edwards cutting the lead to 19-16.
Michigan's ensuing drive went nowhere, and the defense—as we've seen too many times this year—cracked under the pressure of supporting an inept offense. Bentley improbably converted a third-and-17 on a jump ball to tight end Hayden Hurst; three plays later, Shi Smith beat Tyree Kinnel clean to the pylon for a 53-yard score.
The comedy of errors continued unabated. After driving Michigan 75 yards in seven plays, Peters committed a cardinal sin of quarterbacking, throwing under pressure across his body to get intercepted in the end zone. When the defense held, SC's punt clanged off Donovan Peoples-Jones's facemask, setting up the Gamecocks with the ball in the red zone, where they'd get a critical field goal to take a two-possession advantage.
Down to one timeout in the waning minutes, Harbaugh decided to go for it on fourth-and-ten deep in his own territory, but Peters's deep shot to Kekoa Crawford wasn't anywhere close to a completion. The defense gave Michigan one last chance, pushing SC back to force a missed field goal. Another interception by Peters, forcing it to a well-covered Crawford, ended it.
Fair or not, this will be a long offseason. The mitigating factors, or excuses, or whatever you care to call them, go away in 2018, when the program will be loaded with talent recruited by Harbaugh. They'll certainly look better than this. They'd better look a whole lot better.