Poor tackling on defense and key penalties on offense allowed Michigan to pick up momentum. The Gators had two touchdown passes nullified by penalties. They made up for one of those with another touchdown pass, but the second eventually led to a blocked field goal. Joey Ijjas missed another field goal attempt as well.
The offensive line struggled to pick up Michigan's blitzes, and some players were absolutely dominated physically by their Wolverine counterparts. Defensively, they failed repeatedly to make tackles in key situations to get the Wolverines off the field, allowing them to convert 7-of-9 third down opportunities.
Despite all that, down just seven with the second half kickoff coming their way Florida still had a reasonable opportunity to win the football game despite the numerous miscues. Instead, they mishandled a sky kick by Michigan and allowed the Wolverines to get the ball on the UF 37. When Mike Hart burst into the end zone at the 12:50 mark of the third quarter to put Michigan up 28-14, it began to feel like this was not going to be Florida's day. The Gators rallied and actually took the lead late in the game, but still weren't able to make the plays to win it when they needed to.
The failure to block well enough on the last two possessions to even mount a threat of a game winning drive felt similar to the LSU game in 2005. UF was plus-5 in turnovers that day and lost because they couldn't protect their quarterback. This time it was only plus-4, but the performance on the line was just about as poor. The return of a healthy Phil Trautwein will help, but the line will be heavily scrutinized in spring drills.
The short term consequences of the loss aren't that significant - Florida will finish the year ranked in the top 20 instead of the top ten, and talk of a possible top three ranking for next year should cool quite a bit. How Florida will deal with the issues the game raised about the offensive line, their pass rush and the secondary will define this team's progress for 2008.
No player more symbolized the frustrating nature of the Gator defensive performance than Brandon Spikes. The sophomore made a team-leading 13 tackles and had a critical recovery of a Mike Hart fumble, but missed numerous others and overran several key plays.
He also foolishly picked up a personal foul after a play which would have seen Michigan in a 3rd-and -goal situation at Florida's four. Instead, they got a 1st-and-goal at the two, and Mike Hart scored a touchdown three plays later. After the game, Spikes acknowledged there's still a lot of work to be done.
"I thought we had a little something going on in the last four games the way we came out and performed," said Spikes. "After this loss, it opened our eyes that we've got some breakdowns in the defense that we've got to get better. As far as chemistry, we've got to build that trust for the whole defense."
One player Michigan was clearly concerned about against Florida was Brandon James. The Wolverines sky kicked their first kickoff to Aaron Hernandez at Florida's 42 rather than give the sophomore a chance with the ball in his hands.
James did make an impact in the punt game, with 18 and 23 yard returns to set Florida up in good field position early. Perhaps that was enough to scare the Wolverines into another sky kick to start the second half, which paid big dividends for the Wolverines.
SCRATCHING THE SURFACE
While kickoff return duties are not likely in Aaron Hernandez's future, Florida's staff was pleased with the freshman tight end's performance against Michigan. He was used in place of suspended fullback Eric Rutledge as a blocker and helped spring Percy Harvin for some big runs. He also made the catch and run to convert Urban Meyer's fake punt play on 4th-and-8 deep in Florida territory. Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen feels he's a weapon the Gators will get more out of next year.
"We're going to expand his role - he's going to be a tight end, a fullback, an H-back and get flexed out at receiver," Mullen said. "He's going to have a pretty big role in the offense next year."
Should Cornelius Ingram opt to return for his senior season, Florida would be able to create some challenging match-ups with the two of them next year.
LAST GAME OF THE YEAR, SO MAKE IT LAST
Between TV timeouts, penalties and replay reviews, the game never seemed to get into any kind of flow. The first half alone took over two hours to complete, finally wrapping up at 3:03. The game itself lasted four hours.
TEBOW REALLY CAN DO ANYTHING
Tim Tebow has done many things, but the Capital One Bowl was likely the first time he'd been called for pass interference. Referee Jeff Callahan announced a second quarter pass interference call against No. 15 for Florida and never corrected it. While it's possible Tebow lived up to his Superman name by being so fast he was invisible on the play, it was more likely intended for No. 12, Joe Haden.
A REALLY BAD IDEA
One feature available at the Citrus Bowl was a service where people could send in text messages and have them displayed on a continuously scrolling ticker under the action on the video replay board at a charge of $1.99 per message. It might have been good for the Capital One Bowl's bottom line, but it was awful for anyone trying to actually watch replays of the game they'd paid to attend.
UF is always looking at new ways to raise money but if anyone with UF's athletic association thinks this might be worth duplicating in the Swamp, OMG U R 2 KRAZEE!!!! LOL!
SUNSHINE STATE SLUMP
With the loss, Florida joins a trend of failures throughout the state in the postseason. FSU was beaten by Kentucky, while USF was blown out by Oregon. UCF fell to Mississippi State and Miami didn't even make a bowl. That means the only state school to win a bowl game was Florida Atlantic, who defeated Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.
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