The final chapter of the Wolverine’s 136th season, and the finale of Coach Jim Harbaugh’s inaugural season as the Wolverine Head Coach, was written New Year’s Day at the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
The Wolverines met a dedicated and dangerous Florida Gator team in an attempt to secure their 10th victory this season, and prevailed convincingly. This win doubled last year’s total wins, and provided a positive note on which to springboard into the 2016 season. The Wolverines are 3 and 0 all-time against the Gators.
Post-game, Coach Harbaugh was effusive in his praise for all elements of the team, offense, defense and special teams. He even named a list of outstanding players, and this is a coach that doesn’t do that sort of thing ordinarily. Accolades were deserved, as they played their best game of the season in this true team victory.
41 to 7 was the final result of a fine effort by offense, defense and special teams against a Florida team that fought hard, but was overshadowed offensively at QB by Jake Rudock, and a stern defense. The Wolverines were better organized and played harder.
QB Jake Rudock hit 20 of 31 passes for 278-yards, two TDs and no interceptions. He became the second Michigan QB to amass over 3,000 yards (3017) in a season in a season. He took every Wolverine snap at QB.
His Gators counterpart had no such success, tossing a pair of red zone interceptions that hurt. The Gators tried “trickeration” on their opening drive after being stalled after a third down in the Wolverine red zone. They pulled a fake FG out of their bag of tricks. M LB Jenkins-Stone batted the resulting shovel pass to Channing Stribling for an interception. The Wolverines answered with a 73-yard drive for a TD.
Florida answered with more “trickeration”, this time effective as they scored their only TD. The play was a reverse. The QB turned his back on the play, stood still, and then leaked into the end zone to receive a perfect shovel pass for six from a wide receiver, achieving a first quarter tie at 7 up. This play was beautifully conceived and executed to perfection. The bad part was that it belonged to Florida.
Michigan missed their most talented skill player, Jabril Peppers who did not play. His understudies stepped up. Injured punter, Aussie Blake O’Neill also did not participate, but Kenny Allen stepped up, and filled the punting gap admirably. The defensive backs were very good, including Channing Stribling.
Running Back Drake Johnson rushed for a TD, and caught a TD pass. He rushed 6 times for 58-yards and a TD with a long of 17-yards. He caught two, one for a TD. WR Grant Perry had his best game as a Wolverine, nabbing a TD. Season MVP and WR, Jehu Chesson produced 118-yards and a 31-yard TD.
SETTING THE STAGE AND OTHER COMMENTS:
Both teams had displayed problematic offenses at times during their regular season, and they seemed fairly evenly matched pregame with both sporting better defensives then offenses for parts of the season. Florida has struggled to score TDs recently, which was very un-Florida like. Last season’s Wolverine OC, Doug Nussmeier is now up to the same task for the Gators.
This season, the Wolverines did not produce a 1,000-yard rusher. At times they could not rush the ball enough to win. This was very un-Michigan like. They got back on track against the Gators. The Wolverines produced 225 net rushing yards.
It seemed that perhaps Jake Rudock was the better QB pregame , and that proved out, but the Gators seemed to have better running backs and a better running game, but that did not prove out.
These were some of the pregame concerns regarding the Wolverines.
Also, the architect of their defense this season, D.J. Durkin had advanced to the position of Head Football Coach at Maryland. Fortunately, M’s astute and experienced Greg Mattison was available to stand in as the DC for the Citrus Bowl game. Mattison and his crew did an outstanding job. For example, the Gators produced 2-yards in the third quarter.
A master of aggressive defenses, Don Brown, lately defensive coordinator for Boston College, has been hired as Durkin’s replacement. He will be coaching at Michigan immediately at the completion of the Citrus Bowl.
M’s stellar defense, supposed to be the success base of the team while the offense matured, but the unit struggled in the last portion of the season, not helped by an injury to the outstanding Wolverine walk on nose guard, Ryan Glasgow. DE Mario Olejumudia was also lost for the season early , and they were missing Jabril Peppers Friday.
The secondary, seemed to perform among the best position groups on the team all season and again Friday, and the entire defense did well. They were the best defense on the field at this year’s Citrus Bowl as previous problems were alleviated or eliminated Saturday. Special teams also stood tall, except for allowing one long runback.
On the other side of the ball, M’s offensive ground game sometimes had added to the team’s difficulties during the regular season. They did not effectively run the ball against the better defenses, and were notably lacking against Indiana and the Buckeyes. That too was in the past Friday.
M’s best back was D. Smith who often presented a remarkable effort, running, and pass blocking Friday. The now healed Smith rumbled for 109-yards in 25 carries and a TD. Sione Houma effectively plowed a path rushing 9 times for 32-yards and a TD. Drake Johnson made a remarkable contribution, looking recovered from last year’s injury and sprinting for 58-yards on 6 carries with a long of 17. Ty Isaac did not play and Derrick Green did not travel with the team according to reliable sources.
The wide receivers have matured and played well. During the regular season, the Rudock to Chesson long ball connection took a while to establish, but it got established again in Friday’s game as Jehu caught one for 45-yards .
TE Jake Butt shored up the respect for Harbaugh’s desire for tight end offensive contributions, and Jay Harbaugh’s ability to coach them, by nabbing three for 34 with a long of 12. TE Ian Bunting got one for 17 and Kahlid Hill had one for 24-yards.
Most notably, QB Jake Rudock again proved much more than a game manager. He concluded his career at Michigan with a flourish.
As the soft spoken graduate transfer from Iowa again proved his toughness, smarts, and ability to hit streaking receivers in stride, he reinforced respect for Harbaugh’s wisdom in securing his graduate transfer services, and he further proved Harbaugh’s ability to teach his system to QBs, and to choose assistants that can teach that system. He again proved his worth as a Big Ten Quarterback with an outstanding and winning performance.
This in spite of the fact of Jake’s early season problematic miscues throwing the long ball downfield, and throwing interceptions. Interceptions were not a problem on Friday! Worries that Jake had lingering effects from the OSU game proved unfounded. The Jake Rudock one year stint as Michigan’s Quarterback was an outstanding success both for Michigan and Jake Rudock. Jake just kept improving.
A BRIEF SCORING RECAPCAP:
Florida won the toss and chose offense. Starting at their own 25, they got to M’s twenty before the fake kick attempt previously described resulted in a Stribling interception.
Smith powered a 73-yard drive, which was capped by a great Drake Johnson cut back run for 4-yards for the first score of the game. M-7, Fla.-0.
Florida answered with a couple of minutes left in the first quarter, with a 75-yard drive culminating in the spectacular two yard trick play TD described above., and it was 7 up. That was Florida’s last incursion into the end zone in this game, which means the Michigan defense was up to the task. M-7, Fla.-7
The offense was rolling. Later, in the second quarter, Jehu Chesson grabbed a 31-yard pass for 6. He has already caught a 24-yarder in the 60-yard drive and Smith was running tough. Michigan was assisted by 15-yard face mask penalty to give the drive early life. It was M-14, Fla.-7.
A Jerrod Wilson end zone interception stopped a threatening Gator drive, and the offense produced an 80-yard drive scoring drive. Chesson caught one for 12, Drake Johnson ran for 17, and WR Grant Perry caught one for 24. An incompletion to Jake Butt brought on Kenny Allen’s FG of 21-yards. The 1st half ended M-17, Fla.-7.
Michigan received to start the second half. Smith ran for a couple, and Amara Darboh grabbed one for 17-yards. Jake Butt collared one for 12-yards. Smith ran for 10 and 2. A three yard TD pass to Grant Perry finished the 69-yard drive, and it was M-24-Fla.-7. Florida’s game was a little rough around the edges. The drive benefitted from a Gator substitution infraction as well as an off-sides penalty.
Ruddock then hit Houma with a long ball, a 45-yard completion and Sione Houma finished the work with a tough two-yard TD run. M-31, Fla.-7.
Next came a wide open Drake Johnson reception for six after an 84-yard drive with the assistance of a couple of Rudock runs, a Florida face mask penalty, and a 24-yard pass to TE Kahlid Hill. Johnson recovered his own fumble, and then caught an 8-yard TD pass for six, making it M-38, Fla.-7.
Ian Bunting contributed a 17-yard catch, Jake Rudock rushed for five and the game’s scoring was completed on another 25-yard Kenny Allen field goal for a final of 41 to 7.
The new management in charge of the Wolverines has wrought remarkable stability, national respect, and favorable results in their first year.
It looks like the program is prospering in all its phases. That tickets are selling again, that there is a better work ethic, that more toughness and player skills are being developed, that there is better game management, that there is a better coaching team resulting in a better coached team, that this is a team playing better away from home, that nation-wide recruiting is prospering, are all indications, inter alia, of program development. These are all among a host of feel goods this football season has bestowed to Michigan fans. They mostly overwhelm the disappointments.
Like most fans early this season, I stated that the season could not be a success without victories over the Spartans and the Buckeyes. I do not believe that now.
While there is plenty of work to do in hammering out the next special Wolverines football team, the work is off to an unbelievably effective start. The trajectory is up as the improvements are developed, and deficiencies diminished, and as recruiting improves speed, toughness, and effective depth. At least a top five, maybe better 2016 recruiting class is on the horizon.
The fact that 2016 recruits QB Brandon Peters, Running Backs Kareem Walker and RB/FB Kingston Davis, LB Devin Bush Jr., WR Ahmir Mitchell, LB/DL Carlo Kemp, and TE Sean McKeon will be enrolled Wolverines the 1st week of January, will help address some immediate and significant depth issues. LB and RB are examples of need. Harbaugh will play freshmen at certain positions if they can prove they are the best competitive answer.
It appears more good things loom in the Wolverine’s Football future if the work is done. And with this team of coaches it is certain the work will be done.
I hope that you and yours have a Happy New Year and Go Blue!