When the Michigan Wolverines descended upon Orlando, Florida to continue their bowl preparations a few days ago, there was a collective excitement over the change in scenery and climate from that which they had grown use to in Ann Arbor in previous weeks.
"It's great to get out and work in the sun,” Michigan headman Lloyd Carr said. “Our preparation here will get us acclimated to the weather conditions that we will see on game day."
Part of that preparation involves fixing a line that wore down as the season progressed, partially due to injury. With many of the ailments now close to being healed, Carr and company are experimenting a bit to get the best possible grouping on the field. One of the primary test points has been at left guard and center where Adam Kraus and Justin Boren flip-flopped during the season.
"We are working it both ways (during practice),” Carr said. “What I would like to do is move Adam (Kraus) back to left guard and play Justin (Boren) at center but we will have to see."
Even with season long struggles for the Maize & Blue due to injury, Florida head coach Urban Meyer expects Michigan’s play to be representative of the physical style that Big Ten squads have customarily displayed.
“My evaluation of the Big 10 teams are this,” Meyer said, “the best ones are the ones with mind, muscle, strength and power. I'd hate to use the word typical with Michigan because I think they are a great team. I think they had some injuries like we all had and their primos on offense weren't healthy the whole year. They are a tremendous team on film. They have a lot of first round draft picks. They are as good as any team in the country when those guys are healthy.”
On the flip side, Lloyd Carr sees an explosive attack that is typical of top SEC powers have fielded in years past. Particularly daunting is the task of attempting to slow down the big play tandem of Heisman trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow and his blazing fast wideout, Percy Harvin.
"It gets worse every time I watch him,” Carr said of Tebow. “I think he got bigger and stronger as the year went on. There are some things he does you just cannot control. This other guy they have is pretty good too (Percy Harvin.) He's as talented as anybody in the country in my opinion. What we have to try to do is prevent big plays. The remarkable thing I see is 56% completion rate on third down and executing to get the first down. I don't know if that's an NCAA record, but if it's not it's close to it… It tells you what Tebow is capable of doing. He is so dangerous and they are so good at getting into third down and short situations. It's difficult to stop them on third and long situations, much less third and short. We've got to do some things offensively. We've got to play better offensively than we did in the last two games. We've got to score some points. We've got to try to help ourselves in the kicking game with some field position. You've got to better chance to stop Florida if they've got to go 80 yards than if they have to go 50."
Meyer was equally complimentary of his star quarterback, at one point comparing him to one of the all-time great Michigan signal callers. However, as is the case with most coaches, he still made mention of some areas in which his talented pupil can still improve.
“He's great,” the Gator headman said regarding his QB. “He's very level-headed. He came out and competed like Tom Brady in two-minute drill, which is how Tim Tebow is. I think he can still continue to become a better passer. Anytime it breaks down he puts it away which makes him awful dangerous. There are still times he could deliver the ball.”
On whether or not Ryan Mallett will stick around for the fall:
"I have had some conversations with Ryan and his family and it's really a decision, it's a career decision for him. I will support whatever he decides. Sometimes a guy gets caught in a coaching change that really changes things significantly. What I advised Ryan to do when Coach Rodriguez was named was to sit down and talk with him, don't read all that outs there. You have a conversation with him and then you'll know exactly what your feelings are. Those decisions are based on what he (Rodriguez) has to say and that way you can make a good decision. That's really been my advice to him and that's exactly what Ryan has done."
On whether his retirement being the focus of the week:
"No it isn't (about me.) I want this to be about this team and there's always a lot of guys playing their last game. Even that can be a distraction. What we're trying to focus on is an outstanding Florida team and there really is not much room for anything else if you're going to play your best. So, as coaches, we're trying to focus and do the best job we can to prepare this team. There have been a lot of things happen in the past month and there's also a lot of things that happen at a bowl site. We want the players to have a good time and we want to have a good time but it's the age-old story of trying to prepare for a bowl game."