Florida’s reward for a bounce-back 2018 regular season is it’s 3rd matchup in it’s past 38 games with Michigan – this time in the Peach Bowl at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The teams are coming off of dramatically different season-ending games. While the Gators crushed F$U to end a painful 5-game losing streak, Michigan was embarrassed by Ohio $t. in a 62-39 beat down that made it 14 out of 15 losses against their bitter rival.
Florida’s offense will be challenged by a strong Wolverine front seven – even with the decision by DT Rashan Gary to forgo the game to prep for the NFL Draft. DE Chase Winovich and LB Devin Bush are all-Big 10/11/12/ whatever players. The running game has carried the Gators all season, but Mullen will have to be ready to mix things up if Michigan is stopping the run. Where some teams – especially the Black eyes – have exposed the Wolverines is in the secondary. If Florida can get their play makers into space they can do some damage. This game can be a showcase for LT Martez Ivey and RB Jordan Scarlett to exhibit their abilities against a legit front seven. The O-line has to stand it’s ground and give Franks time to find his WRs – if they do, there are some big plays to be had. I’m hoping that Grimes and Jefferson can build on their breakout game against F$U, while Toney has the kind of quickness and speed that O$U used to exploit Michigan’s defense.
Michigan’s offense is led by QB Shea Patterson, who transferred in from Ole Miss prior to the 2018 season and seriously upgraded the play at that position. While his new team has reined in some of his running, he is still a threat to scramble and make big plays. He also improved his passing dramatically this year, with a 21-5 TD-Int ratio. His main targets are WRs Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins and TE Zack Gentry. DPJ and Collins arebig, physical targets that will be a challenge for the Gator DBs. The Wolverines historically feature the TE, a position that has exploited poor coverage by the Gator LBs all season. Still, Michigan relies first onit’s running game, led this year by Karan Higdon, who has averaged just under 100 yards per game. It’s incumbent on the defense to win 1st down in order to force the Wolverines into more difficult down-and-distance plays. If Michigan is winning the LOS this will be a long afternoon for the Gator defense, and likely lead to a loss.
As with almost any bowl game – especially a non-playoff game – it virtually impossible to predict the mindset of the players coming in. There are so many variables – guys not playing to prepare for the NFL Draft, grades, baby mommas, guys that do play that will get drafted but try not to get injured, agents/runners sniffing around draft-eligible players, family/posses with their hands out, etc. Many of the bowl games now are more like exhibitions for the following season, with the main reward being the additional practices to develop younger and inexperienced players.
I feel that this game is more important to the entire Florida football program because of it’s recent transition in AD, coaching staff, and attitude. That may not necessarily translate into a win, but I believe Coach Mullen and the players will have extra motivation to prove to the nation (and future recruits)that the prognosis for Gator football isn’t just a short rally, but long-term success. Florida was embarrassed by Michigan in both the Citrus Bowl after the 2015 season and in their 2017 opener – both games under the Swamp Donkey. A new message needs to be sent that things are truly different –and better – going forward.
I think that Michigan’s experience within a consistent scheme for the past 4 seasons, the desire to begin erasing the impressions from their meltdown against Ohio $t., and better talent along the OL and DL will be enough to win. However, I also hope that once this game is over they – and the nation – realize that Florida is not the mentally and physically soft team they have enjoyed beating recently.
Prediction: Michigan 27 Florida 20