The Wolverines come into a matchup with the Gators in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl with a stout defense. Michigan ranks in the top 18 nationally in scoring defense, total defense, rush defense and pass defense. The only one outside of the top 10 is the rush defense, which is 18th in the country.
Jim Harbaugh’s defense is No. 3 in pass defense, giving up 158.8 yards per game through the air. The unit is No. 4 in total defense, allowing just 281.3 yards per game. The first-year coaching staff yielded immediate results for the Michigan defense.
The Wolverines will have a coordinator change heading into the bowl game. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who served as Florida’s defensive coordinator under Will Muschamp in 2013 and 2014, became the head coach at Maryland. Greg Mattison will take over as the defensive coordinator for the bowl game, and first-year Florida coach Jim McElwain doesn’t expect any drop off.
“What D.J. did to energize that defense, they did a heck of a job,” McElwain said. “I know that Greg (Mattison), obviously there’s a top coach in the country right there, that’s going to handle carrying forward which I’m sure we’ll see some of his looks, odd pressure stuff that he’s really good at that we’re going to have to work from that standpoint.”
The Gators will get back on the practice field late Friday afternoon for the first time since preparation for the SEC Championship game. McElwain said the staff hasn’t put much time into Michigan preparation, other than some of the film watched on airplanes while traveling the country for recruiting purposes in recent weeks.
PREPARING FOR BOWL ATMOSPHERE
Players have a choice about how they want to handle a bowl game. For some, it’s about trying to win. Others struggle to focus on that and enjoy what could be their final game in college. McElwain and the staff are working with the players to get their minds right before the team heads to Orlando later this month.
There are a lot of possible distractions when the team gets to Orlando. They have multiple events to do all over the city, most aimed to help the college players have fun and let it serve as a reward for a successful season. McElwain said they will be pushing the players to find the balance between having fun and focusing on winning.
"I think it's important they enjoy it, but at the same time understand when we're in those in the practice, in the meetings, we kind of close it down to what we consider a Perfect Thursday, a Focus Friday and then the game,” McElwain said. “That's got to be we're all in. We take those guys that are going to be playing and almost segment them off from some of the steak eaters that are there to just enjoy life. They deserve it because they've done a heck of a job for us out here, but what we try to do is understand, "Look, we're here to win a ballgame. We're aren't here to just go on rides."”
McElwain didn’t offer any clear answers when asked about the contract of offensive line coach Mike Summers. His contract is up after this season, and the Florida coach was asked if he expects Summers to be on the staff next year.
"We'll get all that when we get done with this bowl season,” McElwain said. “I think (Summers’ contract) runs through February, might even be March, but whatever of this (coming) year, which is part of his USC deal."