VETTEL: Third Down was the Key

ORLANDO, Fla. --- Part of the success of the Florida football team offensively this season had been their incredible success rate on third down. Florida entered the Capital One Bowl Game with Michigan leading the nation with a 57 percent conversion rate.

That success abandoned the Gators in Orlando, and the resulting 2-for-11 statistic speaks volumes about why Florida came up short.

The Gators initial third down failure may have set the tone for the afternoon that followed. Florida had 3rd-and-5 at the Michigan 32 trailing the Wolverines 7-0. Tim Tebow's pass to Louis Murphy was broken up, Joey Iijas missed a 49 yard field goal and Florida wasted its first scoring opportunity.

A second crucial third down came in the second quarter with the score tied at 14. Percy Harvin raced 66 yards to give the Gators a first down at Michigan's 14-yard line. After Florida advanced for a 1st-and-goal on the three, the Gators had a touchdown pass negated by a questionable illegal formation penalty. On 3rd-and-goal at the nine, Florida 's offensive line broke down, Tebow was sacked and the Gators ended up with a blocked field goal.

Those two possessions could have generated 14 points and should have generated at least 10. After the game, coach Urban Meyer made it clear that third down offense and defense was the difference.

"We were six percent on the year and went two-of-11 and they were 10-of-15," Meyer said. "That's the ballgame. That's it right there. Those are the money situations, third down conversions along with turnovers and red zone production. In the big wins we've had we've been tremendous in all three, but we failed in to of those areas.

Defense Couldn't Get Stops

As mentioned above, the Gator defense allowed Michigan to convert 67 percent of their third down opportunities (10-15). It started on the game's opening drive when the Wolves converted four times in as many chances. It continued throughout the afternoon. In fact, Michigan didn't even try to convert its final two third down plays, so when it mattered, they converted 10-of-13 a ridiculous 79 percent.

Michigan entered this game averaging 26 points, 166 rushing yards, 207 passing yards and 373 total yards. In this game they managed 41, 189, 373 and 524 respectively. The team that scored just three points in its season finale' against Ohio State ran roughshod over the Gators all day long.

It's a disappointing end to what was a very good season in the Gators' third year under Urban Meyer. It also showed Florida has a lot of work to do in the next nine months to become a decent defensive football team, let alone a good one.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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