Gators go Down in Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. --- This wasn't the way it was supposed to end. The Florida Gators ended the regular season with four straight wins by dominating opponents offensively and improving defensively. But against the Michigan Wolverines in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday, nothing seemed to go right during Florida's 41-35 loss.

Yes, the Florida (9-4) offense behind their recently crowned Heisman quarterback Tim Tebow put 35 points on the board and gained 400 yards. Yes, the defense forced turnovers, and yes, the special teams converted a fake punt. But the offense also failed to score twice inside of the red zone. The defense allowed Michigan (9-4) to gain more than 500 yards, and the special teams missed two field goals and watched a sky kickoff fall on the ground only to be covered up by the Wolverines.

Florida was unable to convert on third downs, making just two tries on 11 attempts, while they couldn't stop Michigan's offense who converted 10-of-15. They ran 20 fewer plays than Michigan, and on Florida's 32 carries, Tebow or Percy Harvin carried 29 of them, and Harvin caught more than half of Tebow's passes. The Florida spread offense became a two-man team for most of the game.

"There were some glaring errors that we have to get corrected real fast," head coach Urban Meyer said. "Personnel-wise and coaching-wise, I'm not real pleased with some of the stuff that I saw out there."

Not only did the Gators struggle to get more of their offensive weapons involved, but they also committed costly penalties. In the second quarter, the Gators were faced with a 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard line, but were flagged for an illegal formation penalty. Florida would later be forced to attempt a field goal that Michigan blocked.

"I was told by our guys that they were properly aligned," Meyer said. "We told the officials that it's an unusual formation. It's called an imbalanced formation. That was a momentum shift in the game. You can't have that. Teams that do well score in the red zone and we didn't do that today."

For Tebow, he had one of his worst performances of the season, completing 17-of-33 passes for 154 yards. The bright spot was his three touchdown passes and he didn't throw an interception. But at the same time, Tebow was under pressure for most of the game. He was only sacked once, but the Wolverines provided relentless pursuit of the Heisman winner.

"They had two blitzes that we have not seen them do," Meyer said. "They pressured Tim and we made them pay. We made some big throws in those situations, but I'm not sure that we protected as well as we have in the past."

"They have a good pass rush, but it wasn't anything different that we've faced this year," Tebow said.

Harvin was phenomenal, carrying 13 times for a game-high 165 yards and a touchdown. He also caught nine passes for 77 yards and another score, but by game's end, it was clear the sophomore receiver had run out of gas.

"I think he kind of got worn out," Meyer said. "We relied on him a lot and Tim Tebow. I thought he played very well. I think he was very dynamic and is one of the best players in college football."

"We're not concerned about individual awards," Harvin said. "We didn't come out with the win, so I'm not satisfied. We didn't come out hungry and we need the offseason to get better."

Although the offense had some issues, they did score and keep the Gators in the game. The bigger issues were clearly on defense where Michigan was able to move the ball at will. The Florida defense only forced Michigan to punt twice and allowed 373 yards passing and 151 more yards on the ground.

"I'm very disappointed with the pass coverage," Meyer said. "Not to take away from their personnel because they're very good, but I didn't feel like we were getting to the quarterback or contesting throws and that's some of the things that we have to get a lot better at."

For some time in the first half, the Gator defense was able to slow down Michigan running back Mike Hart, but he finished with 129 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. And the Wolverine receiving corps saw four different receivers go for 62 yards or more.

"I expect more out of the corner play than that," Meyer said. "That's one of the areas that we have to improve. We might have to change the way we play or change up the coverages they play, but we need to develop there. That's all freshmen and sophomores playing there."

Unlike Michigan's ability to put pressure on Tebow, the Gators were never able to put consistent pressure on quarterback Chad Henne. Henne completed 25-of-39 passes for nearly 400 yards and added three touchdowns. He was able to pick apart the Gator defense and did so in pressure situations. Florida was able to grab a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter after Henne threw an interception, but he quickly answered by orchestrating a four play, 67-yard drive going 3-of-3 passing for 61 yards. It gave Michigan the lead for good.

"The deflator is when you go and score after that fake punt and then boom, boom, boom, they go down the field and scored," Meyer said. "But that's college football. Last year our defense held Ohio State to 82 yards and our offense struggled at times in the middle of the year. Great teams are able to feed off of each other and we weren't able to do that. We had to match them score for score and we couldn't do that."

The consensus was that Florida would use the Capital One Bowl as a statement game that would help propel them to the top of the preseason polls for next season. Now, they find themselves in a position of trying to fix several holes during the offseason.

"We'll just use it as motivation and try and get better," Tebow said. "It's definitely tough to end the season on a losing note, but we just need to get better."

Meyer said what his young team needs most is just to grow up a little bit.

"We need maturity," Meyer said. "Last year, we graduated a bunch of players and lot of our players went on to the National Football League. At the beginning, we thought we had some answers, but in the end we figured out that we don't. Guys that we were counting on playing were not living up to the standard. Our goal is to be the New England Patriots of college football. I tell my team that that's what I expect. You see a guy like Randy Moss who goes in there, is a model citizen and plays his tail off. He hugs his teammates after he scores and that's what I want around here."

Harvin has said the Gators didn't have a great offseason after last year's national championship, but he's going to take it upon himself to make this year's offseason more productive.

"I'm going to put that on my shoulders to get everyone back on the same page and get better and get back into the championship game," Harvin said. "We tried it our way and our way didn't work, so now it's time to do it the coach's way, get back on the bus and get back to the championship next year."

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


Fightin Gators Top Stories