The 7th ranked Wolverines (10-2) ventured to Atlanta, Ga. to snap back again at a far too recent and familiar foe, Florida’s Gators (9-3). The Chick-Fil-a Peach Bowl was deemed by many as a consolation prize as neither team secured their league championship.
A game in a big city, that sometimes does not sport sub-tropical weather this time of year, seemed less attractive to many fans, me included. However, the modern Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a singular facility, and the home of the Atlanta Falcons.
The day was overcast with a 7 mile an hour wind, with a partly cloudy sky, but no weather impacted the outcome of this game, as the roof of this edifice closes. It will host the next Super Bowl. So, what happened to the Wolverines on what was not their day?
THE PLAY ACTION PASSING GAME THE WOLVERINES BASICALLY WANT TO PLAY AGAIN HAD NO RUNNING GAME SUPPORT:The passing game had some good minutes, some innovative plays, short and downfield, but in games won this year has it has not had to carry the whole offensive load.
The M rushing statistics are laid out below, and they are dismal. The backs Tru Wilson, and Chris Evans, and Christian Turner, gave it effort, as did the other backs, but the necessary results were not there. The holes were few, and with some exceptions, expected by opposition. There were some screens, and other innovative plays.
At the beginning of the game, the Wolverines could not sustain a drive for six by converting a third and one, and on the next play a fourth and one. FB Ben Mason rued he did not keep his feet on the ground and moving. The OL did not create the needed push.
Both offensive and defensive problems plagued the Wolverines. They could not stop the running game of the talented Florida running backs, or Florida’s Quarterbacks (a large, and mobile Quarterback of 240 pounds or thereabouts). Michigan’s offense made more mistakes than that of Florida, and so did the M defense.
There was a game changing interception early. A later game changing interception taken to the house came later. The third quarter game breaker happened on a long Patterson downfield throw. The Gator Safety made a tremendous play on the ball after first heading up field toward the end zone to then run a curving path to the high point at which he could intercept ball. I don’t think Shea could see him or knew the Safety’s intentions when he threw. The second interception was deflected by a defensive Gator and intercepted.
The Wolverines blocked two punts. They are described in greater detail below. The one by Kaleke Hudson was spectacular in the area, and came at a late effort time, but unluckily this blocked punt rolled through the end zone before the Wolverines could cover it, and led to only two points.
Lady luck was not with them Saturday, and the fact is, that as hard as the Wolverines played for most of the game, they were not rewarded with any favorable bounce. Also, several injuries didn’t help the cause. Michael Dwumfour, Devin Gil among them did not help. Kwitty Paye, too.
THE MICHIGAN TEAM LOOKED AND PLAYED LIKE THEY WANTED TO BE AT THE PEACH BOWL, BUT COULD NOT PRODUCE ENOUGH TO WIN:Every bowl has many emoluments for players, and this package was no exception. The Wolverines were sorely in need of an 11th win to jump start 2019, and to help erase the lingering disappointment from their season ending loss. It was not to be as their record slid to 10 and 3 for the season. The Wolverines made a good effort for most of the game. They did not come out as flat as beer on a platter, which I worried might be the case after OSU.
THERE ARE ASPECTS OTHER THAN LOCATION WHICH ATTRACTS OR CONCERNS BOWL FANS: One such is the competition. I have already mentioned that the Peach Bowl, and facing the Gators, was not a pre-game choice of many Michigan fans. Many felt they had seen that act before on a similar stage. Many were let down by not having a shot at the Rose Bowl, which for a time seemed possible.
But fact is that this year’s Gators are a decent football (nationally 10th ranked prior to the game), and under a first-year Coach Dan Mullen. Mullen has forged an efficient spread running offense, a good defense which simply outplayed the Wolverines. For almost three quarters it was a hard-fought, competitive game. The Gators managed to snap their four-game losing streak to the Wolverines with their first victory over the Wolverines. It was a competitive game for most of it, and hard hitting.
The Wolverines did get an important Bowl game benefit which is mentioned every year, the fifteen extra practices, plus a hard lesson again in the level of play needed to win against a ranked team.
Even so, it is still a fact that the Rose Bowl remains the jewel Bowl venue of any not labeled a play-off Bowl. Also, many fans wanted a New Year’s Day game, and that was not to be. This game was labeled as part of the New Years six.
In spite of all these shortcomings, I believe most fans felt afterwards this was a hard- hitting game between two worthy teams. For this Wolverine fan, except for the out-come, it was a good football game.
PLAYER’S SITUATION IS FAR DIFFERENT FROM FANS: They must shrug off the most-ugly losses. While the fans can pout a little, and complain a lot, the players have to refocus goals, rebuild confidence, and have to have short memories of prior errors, and painful defeats. They have to get back to business, and back to work again with fervor and emotion. They have to be totally and continuously goal-oriented. They have to give up their bodies to achieve goals with single minded purpose. Football is a tough game, and it is even tougher when you lose. Most of them give it all that they can, all the time.
A good example is DE Chase Winovich. He had an Indiana game injury that still lingers, and needs surgical remedy. But he postponed surgery and played. He did well for the most part.
I remember interviewing Chase when he was first gaining playing time, he was extremely grateful for it. He has built one fine career. He has been a great representative of Wolverine Football even if he not was a Captain all season until now. Since Karan Higdon chose not to play and was a Captain. Chase Winovich was chosen to replace Karan for this game. Chris Perry was the other Captain.
M HAD MORE THAN THEIR USUAL SHARE OF RUNNING GAME WOES THIS GAME: They did not rush the ball effectively. Christian Turner led the M rushers with 38-yards on 7 carries with a long of 8-yards for a 4.6 average. Chris Evans also had 7 carries for 21-yards and a 2.9-yard average. Wilson, Milton, Patterson and Mason brought the team total to 30 carries for a net 77-yards.
The Wolverines did not defend the run effectively either. In comparison, the Gators rushed 40 times for 264 net yards. Three of their backs got more than 50-yards. The Gator QB, F. Franks scampered for 74-net yards on 14 jaunts, with a long of 30 and a TD. He had a 5.3 average for this game. This was an outstanding performance on their part, but dismal for our defense.
THERE WAS PLENTY OF REASON FOR THE PLAYERS TO BE EXCITED FOR THE PEACH BOWL. THERE WERE NO DEFECTORS, JUST GOOD M MEN MOVING ON: The players individually get an expensive “goodies” package, but some M men felt it in their best interest to move on before the game, for their own understandable reasons. It is the play-off system that has made this bed, as the value of any Bowl not a play-off has been diminished.
Some M players got to get more rest for injuries incurred in the long regular season because of the time off between games. Some like Rashan Gary chose not to play in the Peach Bowl to rest the injury. So did OL Juwan Bushell-Beatty, and LB Devin Bush, Jr., the team’s MVP. Bush was everybody’s All-American pick, and he deserved the honor. A hip injury received against OSU is still healing , and it is understandable he could not miss any opportunity to enhance his NFL draft prospects.
RB and Captain Karan Higdon also missed the game to prepare for the NFL draft. Karan had been the Wolverines running game all season, but felt he could miss no opportunity to enhance his prospects for the NFL draft.
Their concerns are understandable. They had contributed some great football minutes to the Wolverines, and will be missed. No hard feelings here. Good luck to those who chose to play, and to the M Men that didn’t.
ONE BIT OF GOOD NEWS CAME FROM SEAN PATTERSON last week before the Peach Bowl game. He has stated that he wants another shot at the Buckeyes. He has owned up to the fact that his showing against OSU was not to up to his standard, and the fact is, that in-spite of that showing, he had the best season of any of the QBs that have played under Coach Harbaugh at Michigan. Before this game, Patterson threw for more than 2,300 yards, and threw to opposition only 5 times in the regular season, while tossing 21 TDs. It is a fact that he is the best QB of the Jim Harbaugh era to date, and will only improve with a year in the system. A week or so ago Shea announced his intention to remain in school next year. As among fighter pilots experience is a prime factor in success, it is with QBs in big time football. Even if one of the backups can match his talent, he has won more games than the rest of the QB room put together.
Shea had a decent day Saturday. Again, the OL was leaky at times. His unfortunate first interception was the first turning point of the game, no question. He threw for 236-yards on 23 attempts, with one TD and, the two interceptions. Joe Milton completed one pass for 13-yards to make the total M passing yardage 239-yards. WR Nico Collins was Shea’s most common receiver, snagging a team long of 41-yards and 4 other passes for a total of 80-yards.Donovan-Peoples Jones nabbed a beautifully thrown 18-yard TD pass, plus 7 others for a total of 71-yards. Together Turner, Perry, Black, Evans and Wilson hauled in passes for 198-yards. Christian Turner had a nice catch and run into the cancelled on review, as they detected a foot slightly out of bounds. Tarik Black had a key catch called a drop on replay.
LB JOSH ROSS LEAD THE DEFENSE with 10 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and a sack. Kaleke Hudson was energized with 7 tackles, 1 TFL and a blocked punt. Chase Winovich contributed 7 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs, and a 12-yard sack.LB Devin Gil had a sack, and left the game injured. The unit totaled 3 sacks.
HOW THEY SCORED:The Gators won the toss, deferred, and the Wolverines received. received.Shea had a nifty 21-yard jaunt to the Florida 47, but the drive failed when Christian Turner had an apparent TD ruled out of bounds at the Florida 38. Ben Mason was held twice, once on third and 1, and a 4th and one. Ball turned over, and an early opportunity for momentum lost. I consider this an OL failure, as well as Ben leaving his feet..
M soon got the ball back, but a 27-yard drive stalled on a 7-yard sack of Patterson.
At 5:37 Florida hit a 21-yard FG to finish a 10 play, 71-yard drive. A 41-yard pass did most of the damage. The Gators led by M-0, Gators-3.
The Wolverines replied with a 9 ply, 75-yard drive fueled by a 41-yard catch to the Gator 21. A perfect Shea pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones, who made a perfect catch, supplied 6 more points. The PAT made it 7-3 at 202 of the 1st Quarter. M-7, Gators-3.
The First Quarter ended M-7, Gators-3.
At 12.22 of the 2nd Quarter. The Gators put together enough ground game to provide for a 10-play drive for a 26-yard FG.
Now it was M-7, F-6. We got a TD and they got only FGs, so I was feeling good.
The Wolverines blocked their first punt of the day.
In a later drive, Shea was hit for a five-yard loss, and unsuccessfully tried to throw the ball away. It was deemed a fumble and was recovered by an alert Christian Turner at the Gator 36. Disaster averted.
M’s J’Marick Woods recovered a blocked Gator punt, as Jordan Glasgow got to it, to give the Wolverines the ball on the UF 30.
Jake Moody again proved his worth by nailing a 48-yard goal. He did miss a 52-yard attempt wide to the left, but he still has been Wolverine gold this season. It was now 10 to 6 Michigan, with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
But one of the first half turning points in the game had come, as on the next possession as the Michigan D did not contain Florida QB F. Franks, and he scooted 20-yards for a 20-yard TD unmolested. As a result of the 8-play, 75-yard drive which culminated at 2.21 of the second quarter, the Wolverines were behind at the half 10 to 13.
Early in the third quarter, the biggest second half turning point of the game came with the interception of a long downfield Shea throw in a spectacular play by the Gators. The return was for 53-yards to the M-44.
The Gators scored on a 5-yard pass to make it 10-20 and the die was cast for the ensuing Gator victory. For the it culdn.t get better, and for the Wolverines, it couldn’t get worse.
Florida held on the next M possession as Shea was sacked. The Gators had both a 30-yard pass and a 30-yard run to score on a 1-yard run at 2:34 of the third. Now 10-27 it was a desperate situation for the Wolverines.
But things got worse in the fourth. The Wolverines had the benefit of an apparent catch by Tarik Black was overruled, and deemed a drop. That’s the kind of day it was. Jake hit a 26-yard FG at 12:16 of the fourth, and it was 13-27. It was an 8 play, 63-yard drive.
Next Florida broke a terrific 53- yard run for 6 at 10:34, and it was 13-34. Michigan could only reply with a blocked kick to make it 15-34. Kaleke Hudson make a terrific play, but the unfortunately the ball rolled through the end zone for a two-point safety instead of getting covered in the end zone for the six they needed. It was a great and timely play by Kaleke.
At 4:43 the scoring was finished as another interception Patterson was hurried into the end zone for a final of 15-41.
TAKEAWAY: This game obviously did not provide the great leap forward into next year that all Wolverines desires. Harbaugh employed wore his usual laconic personna afterwards. He believed his team was ready, stated that neither the offense or defense played well, and credited the opposition. Averred that the team has had a good season, but needs to get over the top to the next level. He said the injuries to Kwity Paye and Devin Gil were hamstrings.
Chase Winovich was not as precise as Harbaugh, but a little more interesting. He said a lot post-game: Among his comments was the following on how the team looks back on their completed 2018 season. “You can make excuses for stuff. Obviously, the players leaving were impact players from the last time we played Florida, we had injuries galore. In warmups I strained my calf and hamstring. I’m dealing with a cold. I have to get surgery on something else. Excuses could go on and on. I don’t think that would make a difference. They were just a better team than us today. Hats off to them!”
And hats off to a group, including Chase, of Wolverines that had a taste of stunning success, and the other side of the coin , all in the same season.
Let’s leave it at that.