The 2013 Outback Bowl was one of the bowl season's best, with South Carolina eking out a 33-28 last-minute win over Michigan. The game featured four lead changes in the last 15:02 of play, including a 32-yard strike from Dylan Thomas to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left for the decisive score.
For Michigan, there'll be plenty of time to worry about what might have been in the coming months, though the only lasting consequence of losing the Outback Bowl as opposed to winning it is just how much the coaches yell in the offseason. RB Vincent Smith might also have nightmares about South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, but it's awfully hard to fault him for that.
What's really going to be worth watching, though, is where the Michigan quarterback situation goes from here.
Devin Gardner threw nearly every Michigan pass in the Outback Bowl, and the fact that he supplanted Denard Robinson as the starting QB even after Robinson was healthy enough to get back on the field is significant. Gardner also played surprisingly well at quarterback...at times.
The first three quarters of the Outback Bowl were not one of those times.
Looking at stats, it's not immediately obvious that Gardner struggled on Tuesday. He finished 18-of-35 on the day for 214 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Three scores to one pick is a good ratio; there's no denying that. But 6.1 yards per pass attempt is not good. Seventeen incompletions is not good. And most of those incompletions were on Gardner.
Call it nerves or whatever, but Gardner routinely overthrew his receivers, wasting opportunity after opportunity to move the chains. He was 3-for-9 passing on third downs, though those three completions were for first downs or touchdowns. The six incompletions, meanwhile, were by and large avoidable.
A perfect encapsulation of Gardner's struggles came at the end of the first half, when the Wolverines had drove to the Gamecock 43-yard line. After a spike and two incomplete passes (neither great throws in their own right), Gardner had enough time for one last Hail Mary. He threw it out of the end zone and off the wall on the fly. Gardner was closer to putting the throw in the crowd than in the hands of his receivers.
This isn't to say that Gardner was all-in-all bad, mind you. He made some stellar throws. His late touchdown to Jeremy Gallon was perfectly placed, and a type of throw Denard Robinson just never seemed capable of making. He also flashed some great athleticism scrambling from the pocket, finishing with 24 yards despite losing about that much yardage on sacks.
It's just that Gardner's consistency just wasn't there in the Outback Bowl, and that is extremely problematic for a quarterback who doesn't have his starting role locked up. And make no mistake: Gardner absolutely has a fight for the starting spot coming with Shane Morris coming to Ann Arbor in 2013.
We're not calling for Morris to start or Gardner to move back to receiver or whatever, but we do know that Gardner's Outback Bowl was not the kind of performance that's going to lead Michigan back to the Rose Bowl anytime soon.
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