Michigan and Florida both went through coaching changes this past offseason. Both programs exceeded expectations and seem to be an excellent matchup to end the season. Both programs fan bases should be ecstatic that they’re playing in a New Year’s Day game.
Rushing Offense against Florida
The Florida Gators rank 17th in the country in rush defense. This could be a problem for Michigan, considering they have struggled mightily against above average defensive fronts all season.
Florida features a slew of elite athletes up and down their roster. In the front seven, Jonathan Bullard will be a handful for the Wolverine offensive line. Bullard makes plays against the run and pass consistently. The senior has a team leading 17.5 tackles for loss.
Junior linebacker Antonio Morrison makes plays sideline to sideline and will impact the game in some capacity. Through 13 games, Morrison has racked up 97 tackles and will look to add to that total on Friday.
Michigan leaned heavily on their run game early before trying a different approach later in the season. Can they get back what they once had? De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson will be the feature backs, but look for Karan Higdon to shoulder some of the load. After getting an extra 15 practices are under his belt, Higdon will be hoping to shine in front of family in his home state of Florida.
Junior running back Derrick Green did not make the trip to Florida- let the speculation begin.
Michigan’s running game has been average at best and unless the offensive line has improved drastically, expect another mediocre rushing day.
Passing Defense against Florida
There is a man in this Florida secondary that Michigan and quarterback Jake Rudock should keep an eye on at all times – his name is Vernon Hargreaves III.
Ever since Hargreaves set foot on campus in Gainesville, they knew he was going to be a star. A starter since day one, his talents will be well respected on the next level as he is expected to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, where he will go in the first round. He finished the season with only four interceptions and four pass break ups, but that’s because no one really wanted to test those waters.
Rudock, who was hurt against Ohio State, is healthy and will take the snaps with the first team. Also a native Floridian, Rudock will be playing in front of family and friends in his final collegiate game.
Rudock came on strong late in the season, cutting down on turnovers and carving up defenses when they took away his running game. Jake Butt, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are all capable of finding holes in this Gator secondary, but will Rudock have the time? Florida will bring constant pressure and rely on their secondary to make plays behind them.
Florida only allows 175 yards passing per game and has some very good defensive backs on their depth chart. Michigan will likely rely on the passing game to move the ball- something’s got to give. Key matchup in this game? Yep.
Rushing Defense against Florida
The Gators have a few capable ball carriers, but Kelvin Taylor should get the first crack at this Michigan front seven. Taylor has almost 1,000 yards on the year and has already stated that he will forgo his final season at Florida and enter the NFL draft. He will use this game as an audition for NFL scouts, so expect him to run hard and with a purpose.
Florida’s offensive line has had some issues throughout the year that will spill over into the bowl game. Tackle Mason Halter has been ruled ineligible, which should force true freshman Fred Johnson into action.
Outside of a couple of games (Indiana and Ohio State), Michigan has been solid against the running game. Finishing second in the conference in yards allowed at 281 per, this Wolverine front seven will be looking for redemption following the embarrassing loss to Ohio State.
Ryan Glasgow will not play in the game as he continues to recover from a torn pectoral muscle. This should be something the players have gotten used to as Glasgow has missed the last quarter of the season with the same injury.
The Wolverine defensive line will do their jobs but the question remains unanswered at linebacker. A position that struggled all year is facing an SEC team with superior athletes that will use speed to make teams look silly. Michigan cannot miss tackles in this one, or they will pay for it.
Michigan could be in trouble if they allow these Florida athletes to get to the second level. If the linebackers miss tackles, it could be a very long afternoon.
Passing Defense against Florida
Florida quarterback Treon Harris took over for starter Will Grier half way through the season after Grier was suspended a year for use of a banned substance. Since Harris has taken over, the offense has been inconsistent but effective at times. Harris can spin it, but tends to be off his target more often than coaches would like.
The Michigan secondary should see plenty of action- Harris is not afraid to throw the ball down the field. He’s also a very capable runner, which is something the entire team should be concerned with.
Jourdan Lewis will be matched up with SEC speed for the first time this season. It will be interesting to see how he stacks up against the fastest conference in the country.
Jabrill Peppers is 50/50 at this time because he is “working through something”, which usually means an injury. Peppers was rumored to be hurt weeks ago but no clear answer has been provided. If he can’t go, the Wolverines have a few bodies capable of stepping in and taking some snaps.
The defensive line should be able to put pressure on Harris, forcing him to make some poor decisions with the football.
Even with the chance of Peppers being unable to go, Harris isn’t accurate enough to beat the Wolverines with his arm. It’s his legs that they should be concerned about.
Special Teams against Florida
If Peppers is a game time decision, chances are he will not be on the special teams units that we are used to seeing him on. Kickoff and punt returns will be delegated to someone else (Lewis, Dymonte Thomas, Chesson).
The Florida kickers are 7-for-17 on the season when it comes to field goals. It’s safe to say they won’t be relying on them for points.
Michigan kicker Kenny Allen has been lights out all season.
Allen has had a special season, making him the X-factor in this one. He is something the Gators cannot match.
Prediction: Michigan 27 – Florida 17
- Week One Preview: Michigan vs. Florida at JerryWorld - Sep 2, 2017
- Crossroads: The State of Michigan Basketball - Feb 13, 2017
- Team 137’s Bowl Game Preview: Orange Bowl vs Florida State - Dec 30, 2016