Grades: Pass defense falters in loss to South Carolina, spoiling comeback
TAMPA, Fla. -- Michigan mounted a pair of second-half comebacks, showing great resilience against the favored South Carolina Gamecocks.
But it was not enough to make up for a terrible pass defense.
The Wolverines' secondary, which finished the regular season ranked second in the country, struggled to slow South Carolina's aerial attack all day, and it cost them on a fateful final defensive series.
The Gamecocks were 8-of-9 passing for 73 yards on that final possession to set up a game-winning 32-yard catch by Bruce Ellington that downed Michigan 33-28.
That drive wiped out a solid effort from the offense, which became just the third team all season to score as many as 28 points against South Carolina.
A look at how some key players graded out in the loss:
Devin Gardner: The junior was so sharp in his first four games at quarterback, but his accuracy betrayed him against South Carolina. He often missed high, including in key situations and in the end zone. He made some nifty plays in the second half, including dashing for a 19-yard run on a fourth-and-1, then finishing off that drive with a 10-yard scoring pass to Jeremy Gallon that gave Michigan its first lead. A pass to Gallon late could have been a winner, if the defense had held. He was 18-of-34 passing for 214 yards, three touchdowns and one pick. B
Denard Robinson: Robinson dropped the curtains on his singular career by becoming the all-time quarterback rushing leader in Michigan history, toppling Pat White's mark on a 9-yard run in the fourth quarter. He finished the day with 23 carries for 100 yards, solid numbers against a terrifying front seven. A-
Defensive backs: Raymon Taylor was asked to do so much this year, filling in for the injured Blake Countess, then becoming the top cornerback with J.T. Floyd out in the Outback Bowl. He played well this year, but his youth showed early against South Carolina, getting burned deep on a pair of throws against a team that does most of its damage on the ground. His issues were fed into Michigan's pass defense posting its worst game of the season, allowing 341 yards and missing Floyd's presence. It hadn't allowed 200 all season. F
Jeremy Gallon: The junior ended the season on a four-game hot streak, and finished the season sizzling. Gallon racked up nine catches for 145 yards, both career highs, and had a pair of touchdowns, including a go-ahead score with 3:29 left. He is Michigan's undisputed No. 1 receiver, playing much larger than his 5-foot-8 frame. A
Taylor Lewan: If this was Lewan's final game at Michigan, he made it a memorable one. The left tackle was charged with facing the nation's top defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, one-on-one for much of the game and held the All-American relatively quiet. Clowney made two jarring hits in the second half, but his overall production -- four tackles, one for loss -- was well off his usual day. Lewan showed why he is a top-15 NFL draft prospect, and why he must consider -- and is considering -- leaving school early. A-
Matt Wile: The sophomore helped make the absence of Big Ten punter of the year Will Hagerup an afterthought. Wile averaged 48.0 per attempt, while also booting an Outback Bowl-record 52-yard field goal. Hagerup still has a bigger leg, but Wile himself is a strong option and will quell fears about regarding Hagerup's uncertain future. A
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