It’s bowl season, and the Michigan Wolverines are in Orlando to take on the Florida Gators in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Here is the usual pregame breakdown and prediction.
Michigan finished the regular season ranked 72nd in total offense averaging 387 yards per game. That ranking isn’t too bad when you look at Michigan’s rushing totals, ranking 91st in the nation at 152.7 yards per game, not exactly what you’d expect from a Harbaugh offense. However, Jake Rudock has been effective in keeping Michigan in games, creating leads, and extending leads when necessary. Rudock threw for 2,739 yards and tossed 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. For Rudock, who is a game manager type quarterback it was a great season, and it was a much better season for the Wolverines quarterback than many expected. DeVeon Smith looked strong early in the season, but some injuries slowed him down midseason. Injuries coupled with tough matchups Smiths stats don’t look as good as he really has been for the Wolverines, which was a pleasant surprise. Another pleasant surprise was the emergence of Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh, who have a combined 1,349 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Despite all of the surprises this season the Wolverine offense has seen, it will be difficult for everyone to click when needed, especially against Florida who has an extremely talented football team. Rudock will struggle to find open receivers against a very tough Florida secondary, and while the Wolverine offensive line has looked better than past years, it looked awful against Ohio State, and will likely struggle against the Gators as well. It will definitely be a lower scoring game and a defensive battle between two strong defenses loaded with talent.
The Wolverines get the edge on offense, but with both teams posting strong defenses, it doesn’t mean much.
Florida boasts an offense that has struggled. They lost their original starting quarterback to suspension, and after Will Grier was suspended, the Gators offensive attack struggled. Treon Harris stepped in and has thrown nine touchdowns in his time as Gators quarterback, Harris can also be utilized as a runner. Kelvin Taylor has 985 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the season, and while they aren’t stats that jump out over the 13 games the Gators have played, Taylor is a dangerous runner who can break off big plays. Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier runs an offense that runs a lot of plays out the of shotgun formation. The spread type of offense could give the Michigan defense fits if the Gators play up-tempo and spread the ball around.
The Michigan defense is another pleasant surprise from this past season. They might just have their hands full this game with Kelvin Taylor, a small running back capable of making quick cuts and bursting through the hole. However the likely scenario is that he gets bottled up in the backfield all game. Michigan is capable of putting immense pressure on Harris, and from games that I have watched, Harris panics and tends to make very poor decisions with the ball. Michigan will need to force Harris to make bad decisions and take advantage of those. Field position will be major in this game, and if the Wolverines can win that battle, they could ultimately win the game.
Florida will field a very strong defense as well. The Florida secondary is one of the best in the nation with almost guaranteed first round pick Vernon Hargreaves, and rising star Jalen Tabor at corner, the Wolverines receivers will find it very tough to get open. The Gators also boast two solid safeties to team up with Hargreaves and Tabor and form a very tough secondary. Jonathon Bullard is an absolute beast on the defensive line, and could cause problems for the Wolverine offensive line, and running game. The Gators are a little thin on the defensive line, but with Bullard singlehandedly wreaking havoc on the interior offensive line, the Wolverines will throw the ball a bit more. The Florida defensive will surely test the Wolverines offense and likely force a turnover or two.
It’s not very often I talk about special teams in my breakdown and prediction, but Michigan will likely be without two main pieces in their special teams game. By now, everyone knows about Jabrill Peppers. Beat reporters in Orlando have been reporting Peppers has his hand in a splint and is not practicing, while Harbaugh has given no update on his status. By now, we all expect Peppers to miss the game. However, another Michigan special team’s player was seen sporting a knee brace. Michigan Daily beat writer Max Bultman saw punter Blake O’Neill with a knee brace.
With the injuries Michigan will have on special teams, and the two teams trotting out such talented defenses, I find it hard to believe Michigan will control this game. It will come down to the field position battle, and if Blake O’Neill is not handling the punting then Florida will own the field position when they force the Wolverines to punt, which will probably be often. I expect Florida to have a short field far too often.
Saw Blake O'Neill with a brace on his right knee at Michigan practice today. A Michigan spokesman could not confirm an injury.— Max Bultman (@m_bultman) December 29, 2015
Final Prediction: Michigan 14, Florida 24