I wanted to watch some Florida games before writing a preview of their team, but I didn’t have the opportunity here in Orlando. Specifically, I wanted to be able to see what Auburn did against the Gators both this year and last (this year: held them to 17 points, the only time they scored below 30; last year: hold them to 17 points, only team to defeat the Gators). Obviously, I’m of the opinion that if Michigan can hold Florida below 17 they can win this game. Instead, I’ll have to give a more shallow preview, for which I’ll apologize now.
Florida starts and ends with Tim Tebow. The 2007 Heisman trophy winner rushed for 838 yards and 22 touchdowns, while passing for 3132 yards and 29 touchdowns. He is, like, good and stuff. Michigan will look to Shawn Crable to stuff Tebow’s running, and the Michigan secondary to stop his passing. The Wolverines’ secondary has turned into something of a strong point this year with two senior safeties in Brandent Englemon and Jamar Adams, along with a very good corner in Morgan Trent, and a developing freshman in Donovan Warren. The main question in defending the pass is the depth, as Florida will try to spread apart Michigan with 5-wide sets (which will also open up the scramble for Tebow). Brandon Harrison is an adequate nickel, and Stevie Brown will be a good safety someday. However, neither of these players is a world-beater. Quarterback pressure will play a key role in forcing Tebow to throw, rather than run (by containing him, something Michigan has done very poorly this year), and also by making him get rid of the ball more quickly than he wants to.
Percy Harvin is Florida’s other key offensive weapon, and he is a fast one. Harvin was recruited as a wide receiver, but most of his offensive touches this year have been runs. However, he is still the Gators’ second-leading receiver, to Andre Caldwell. The Florida O-line has still been incapable of coming up with a conventional running attack, but with Tebow and Harvin in the backfield, that is nearly irrelevant.
The Florida defense is where more of the vulnerability lies. 37 points ceded to Kentucky and 42 to Georgia are certainly signs that this isn’t last year’s Gator D. The pass efficiency defense, in particular, is a sore point for the Gators, ranking 63rd after last year’s #4 unit. Losing sackmaster Jarvis Moss hurts, as does the entire secondary, most of whom (including big-hitting safety Reggie Nelson) are playing in the NFL. The problem for Michigan is quarterback play. Chad Henne hasn’t been healthy all year, and Ryan Mallett clearly isn’t ready to lead Michigan yet (and may be considering a transfer). The receivers are fairly reliable, with the occasional ball they shouldn’t drop, and the protection has been slightly subpar this year as well.
The running game for Michigan may be a problem as well. The Wolverines struggle in 2007, especially towards the end of the year. The offensive line performance was pitiful against Ohio State, and if they don’t get it together, this could be an ugly game. Mike Hart’s high ankle sprain has had some time to heal, and his backups got some time this year, in case he is unable to compete at 100%.
The coaching will play a large role in this game as well, and herein lies the separation. Urban Meyer is one of America’s elite coaches, and Lloyd Carr is on his way out, partially because he just can’t do it anymore. Urban calls the plays for Florida, and he does a great job, with last year’s National Title game as a prime example. Genius plays such as the Tebow Option Pass left the Buckeyes defense… er… defenseless, and Chris Leak was able to complete his first 8 passes, helping develop his confidence. Michigan’s defensive braintrust has thus far been unable to stop a spread-option offense, and Rich Rodriguez has not worked with the Wolverines yet to help with this situation. Michigan’s offensive playcalling is just bad, and Michigan fans probably won’t be sad to see Mike DeBord leave after the Capital One Bowl.
In terms of intangibles, perhaps the most important factor is Michigan’s coaching staff being in control of this game while on the way out. Will the team fire up to play for Lloyd’s last game, or fold because their leaders are lame ducks? In addition, many on the coaching staff may be worried about their next stop, rather than this game, causing them to lose focus. Home field advantage will be strongly against Michigan (as it almost always is in the bowl season). At the Champs Sports Bowl, an usher told me he expects the crowd of 72,000 to be split 75-25 in favor of the Gators (note to Michigan fans attending the game: see this as an opportunity, not an excuse) (for the record, the Champs Sports Bowl was 60-40 in favor of State). The last intangible to take into consideration is the Curse of the Heisman. Like nearly all such curses, the COTH is likely a myth. However, there may be some truth to egos being inflated for players taking home the trophy. Troy Smith, Reggie Bush, and Jason White all lost their bowl games, though it’s fair to say that Urban Meyer, Vince Young, and the USC Trojans had something to do with that.
Posted under Analysis