The Michigan Wolverines haven’t given themselves a lot to be happy about heading into the Outback Bowl. As if the close loss to their conference rivals, the Ohio St. Buckeyes, was bad enough, now coach Brady Hoke has had to deal with several off-the-field issues involving his players with a bowl game on the horizon.
Fairly soon after all the bowl games and their participants were announced, Hoke suspended cornerback J.T. Floyd, punter Will Hagerup, and linebacker Brandin Hawthorne for the team’s bowl game against the South Carolina Gamecocks. The players were suspended for violation of team rules, though (not surprisingly) we don’t know what these men did specifically to violate team rules.
The suspensions will end Floyd & Hawthorne’s playing days in Ann Arbor as they are both seniors. With Hagerup, this is not something new as he was suspended similarly in 2010 for the annual game against the Buckeyes and then in 2011 for the first four games of the season.
As for whether or not these suspensions will effect the Wolverines greatly on January 1, that’s a bit of a mixed bag.
With Floyd, the Wolverines are losing a starter, but that is not the case with Hawthorne. Even though losing a cornerback isn’t ideal for the Wolverines, this should end up being a depth issue more than a situation where Floyd is missed in particular. It’s my belief that the Gamecocks will want to keep Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson off the field as much as possible and will thus opt for a grind-it-out kind of offense that focuses on the run. I’m not of the opinion that Connor Shaw will throw less than 10 passes in the game for the Gamecocks, but I do believe that their playcalling will be focused more toward the running attack.
With Hagerup being out, the Wolverines could have a problem. Not only was Hagerup the Wolverines’ punter, he was the punter of the year in the Big Ten. Hagerup’s longest punt of the season was 62 yards and he averaged around 45 yards per punt. If this game ends up being one where fielding position at the start of a possession matters a great deal (see the second half of this year’s Wolverines/Buckeyes game), the Wolverines are going to be without the player that could provide the most help in that type of situation.
In a game where fielding position is vital, it generally means the game is battle of punters. And in that kind of game, you want your best punter out there because it gives your team a better chance of burying the opponent deep in their own territory time after time. This is the kind of game that the Outback Bowl could become. The Gamecocks’ defense is more than capable to stopping Gardner, Robinson, and the Wolverines’ offense from being successful; this good a defense has done just that to the Wolverines in their earlier losses to the Alabama Crimson Tide and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Wolverines’ defense is a capable one, though not nearly as good as the Gamecocks’. This means that the fielding position battle could become a big deal for the Wolverines if their offense doesn’t produce early or often, or if the game is close in the second half.
It won’t really be known if these losses will have any impact on the Wolverines until the teams are on the field. But it wouldn’t hurt to keep in mind the Wolverines’ loss at punter and the fact that they are a man short at cornerback when game time rolls around early on New Year’s Day.