TAMPA, Fla. — The Outback Bowl started how you would expect large college-aged men to behave the noon after New Year’s Eve.
Michigan and South Carolina, far from the college football heavyweights slated to play later on New Year’s Day, began their Monday afternoon in a stupor. Both teams opened the game by trading punts and ineffectual blows on offense.
Midway through the first quarter, there were four times as many commercial breaks as combined first downs — the football equivalent of stumbling into your kitchen, bleary-eyed, only to discover you’re out of orange juice.
Eventually, though, the Wolverines somewhat got their first-half act together and took a 9-3 lead into the half. At the very least, they made fewer mistakes than the Gamecocks, who simply looked as if they were ready to head back to bed and sleep it off.
After an ineligible receiver downfield call negated a third-down completion to Donovan Peoples-Jones and Brandon Peters misfired on the replayed down, Michigan sent Brad Robbins out to punt for the third time in as many series.
The punt was short, just like his first two. But at the last second, a Gamecock jumped out of the way theatrically, scaring the returner, Chris Lammons, who must’ve thought his teammate had touched the ball. Lammons frantically attempted to field the ball at the last second. It didn’t quite work out for him.
Michigan recovered the muffed punt just past midfield, taking advantage of the miscue with a 35-yard field goal from Quinn Nordin.
The Gamecocks weren’t done gifting the Wolverines yet. On the ensuing possession, Jake Bentley simply dropped the ball, and Chase Winovich’s recovery gave Michigan prime field position. Yet again, Nordin trotted out to finish the drive, knocking in a 26-yarder.
South Carolina hit one big pass play. Of course, keeping with the theme of the day, it ended the drive with a field goal.
The brief nine-point flurry did not, however, portend an offensive explosion from either side. Michigan gained just 26 combined yards on its final four possessions of the half. A kick-catch interference penalty on South Carolina’s long snapper gave the Wolverines just enough help to end the half with one more helping of Nordin. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, stumbled through two more unsuccessful possessions.
As the saying goes — can’t cure an 8-4 hangover at the Outback Bowl.