Florida and Michigan square off in the
Outback Bowl on New Year's Day in a very intriguing contest. Both teams have a lot
to play for in the season finale. Michigan will finish in the top 10 and have 10
wins with a victory over the Gators, while Florida complete it's season in
the top 20 and extend the nation's longest active streak of 9 wins to 13
consecutive years. Michigan has appeared in the AP top 25 78 weeks in a row, the
nation's longest streak. Both teams feature veteran quarterbacks, proven running
backs and big play wide receivers. Both defenses are aggressive and create big plays. It
is a match up of the Big Ten vs. the SEC and it is the first meeting ever
between the two schools. Let's break it down.
The Wolverine attack is led by Quarterback John Navarre who set Michigan records for attempts (412) and completions (227) in a season. He has 20 touchdown passes and as a Junior already has 5,604 yards and 47 touchdown. He has big physical receivers in Senior Ronald Bellamy #19 and Sophomore Braylon Edwards (#80). Bellamy had a career high in 44 catches while Edwards led the team with 63 and 10 touchdowns. Tight End Bennie Joppru (#83) is the team co-captain and is second in receptions with 47. The running game features 1,000 yard rusher Chris Perry (#23) and fullback, #35, BJ Askew. They combined for 16 rushing touchdowns. The offensive line is big and led by left guard, #75 David Baas, who was all Big 10. Tony Pape (#77) is an outstanding right tackle who also made all Big 10.
They are very similar to Tennessee in that they are an "I" Pro style offense that likes to use regular personnel. The tight end is a big weapon in the running and passing games. They like to keep both backs in on first and second down. The favorite run play of the Wolverines is the "counter trey". They also like to run the power and the strong side "g" play as well. When they have success running it sets up the play action to the tight end, for big plays down the field. They will throw a lot of short routes then hit you with the fade or the skinny post for a big play. Winning first down is the goal of the Wolverine offense, if they can get 4 yards or more on the initial down they feel like they can get you on your heels.
Gators on the Attack:
Look for Florida to start with 3 linebackers and base personnel against Michigan. UF will load the box and try to stop the run. Both corners will have to be physical and look for Todd Johnson to shade to Ratliff's side when the Gators do run cover 1. The defensive ends and Bam Hardman will be major factors in the run game. The ends must close and "wash" the pulling lineman and Hardman must take the right steps to make the play or Michigan will gash them. UF has not seen an attack like this since the early part of the season with Miami and Tennessee. They played the power and counter very well against the Vols and took them out of their game plan early. Look for Florida to blitz in obvious passing situations, with the book on Navarre that he will get rattled with safety and corner blitzes.
Big Game Gators:
Bam Hardman, Clint Mitchell, Todd Johnson, Mike Nattiel and Tron Lafavor.
The Wolverines are led by linebacker Victor Hobson, #6, who was All Big Ten and in the running for the Butkus Award. He led the team with 87 tackles and will move inside for Michigan due to several injuries on the defensive side. Michigan's defense was 4th in the Big 10 in total yardage and had 38 sacks. Ten players had at least two sacks including outstanding defensive ends #92 Dan Rumishek (4) and #53 Shantee Orr (6). At the tackle position #97 Shawn Lazarus is a fifth year senior who is a force in the middle. The Secondary has been the Achilles heel for the Wolverines but they do have a good young corner in sophomore Marlin Jackson (#3). He accounted for 18 pass break ups on the year. Strong Safety, #24 Charles Drake leads the back line by finishing second on the team in tackles with 65.
The Wolverines are a 4-3 team that uses multiple looks to bring pressure. They will " run blitz" on first down and short yardage situations by bring the linebackers in assigned gaps or by walking up the weak side linebacker and reducing the front to the strong side. They will get in passing downs and play a soft cover 1 and blitz the strong safety Drake. The secondary does mix up coverage but likes to play a lot of cover "4 or combo" overages. Look for the defensive end to get up the field and on long yardage situations they will will stunt and twist with the defensive tackles.
Gators on the Attack:
UF will stick to it's plan of throwing to set up the run. Look for Grossman to get Kelvin Kight involved early with screens to set up a deep pass to Taylor Jacobs. The tight ends will be very involved in the red zone as the Gators will use the "two tight" set down inside the 25. The "Gun Lead" and the counter will be effective run plays for Earnest Graham. Expect Florida to no huddle a lot early in the game and use trips formations to widen out the Michigan defense. The Wolverines are susceptible to the pass, finishing 59th in the country, giving up 216 yards per game. The Weak Link is the weak side corner, #21, Jeremy LeSueur. Florida will use situations where both Carthon and Graham will be involved in the backfield and the running game. The offensive line has a great challenge, especially Hand and Starks. Florida's screen package should slow down the early pass rush of the Michigan defensive ends.
Big Game Gators:
Rex Grossman, Taylor Jacobs, OJ Small, Ben Troupe, Ran Carthon.
Neither team has a tremendous advantage on special teams as both struggled throughout the year. Michigan 's kicker is Adam Finley who took over the job late in the season and finished 6-9. He made all three attempts versus Ohio St. He doubles as the punter and averaged 42 yards a punt. Julius Curry(#26) returns punts and Jeremy Lesueur is the main kickoff returner. Michigan does not have a punt or kickoff return for a touchdown this season.
How will it play out?
The common thought is speed versus power and which team can impose it's will and style of play. I think this will be a close game that will be more high scoring than many people think. Bowl games sometimes reveal unlikely stars and heroes. I think Kelvin Kight could be that player in Florida's 28-27 victory.