Chad Henne knew he had to make the last five minutes of the game count if he and his Wolverine teammates were going to come out on top one final time.
From his own 39-yard line, the senior quarterback stepped back up in the pocket and delivered a perfectly weighted pass to senior wideout Adrian Arrington. Arrington, with Florida corner Markihe Anderson draped all over him, hauled in a one-handed catch along the sideline for a 36-yard gain.
The spectacular snag wouldn’t be Arrington’s only contribution on that drive. Two plays later, Henne found Arrington on a post-route in the back of the end zone to put Michigan up, 38-35, with 4:12 remaining.
When the Gators and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow failed to convert on fourth down, the Wolverines added another field goal to seal the 41-35 upset victory in the 2008 Capital One Bowl.
Coming into the game, No. 12 Florida was significantly favored. The Urban Meyer-coached Gators had lost three games during the regular season, all to ranked SEC opponents — No. 15 Auburn, No. 3 Georgia and LSU, the eventual 2008 BCS National Champion.
Michigan, on the other hand, had suffered four losses entering the bowl game. Its losses, though, were of a different variety than Florida’s.
In quite possibly the largest upset in college football history, the fifth-ranked Wolverines lost their opener to FCS’ Appalachian State at the Big House, 34-32. Just a week later, unranked Oregon came into Ann Arbor and shellacked Michigan, 39-7. Two consecutive, late-season defeats to Wisconsin and Ohio State rounded out an 8-4 record.
The Capital One Bowl was also set to be head coach Lloyd Carr’s final game after he had announced his retirement earlier in the season. During his 13-year tenure at the helm of the Wolverines, Carr amassed 122 victories, five Big Ten titles and a national championship in 1997.
All this helped set the scene when the two teams trotted out on the field at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Michigan struck first when Henne connected with junior Mario Manningham for a 21-yard touchdown on the opening drive. But Florida would respond with a touchdown of its own later in the first quarter, when Tebow found sophomore wideout Percy Harvin on a quick slant over the middle.
The versatile and speedy Harvin caused all types of problems for the Wolverine defense both from a rushing and receiving perspective. His 20-yard reception set up the Gators deep in Michigan territory at the beginning of the second quarter. Receiver Andre Caldwell would go on to score two plays later off a screen pass.
Michigan wouldn’t be deterred, though. Bruising running back Mike Hart, a Doak Walker Award finalist for college football’s best halfback, found his way into the end zone from three yards out to tie the game at 14.
The two teams would go on to trade touchdowns prior to the fourth quarter.
Following a Michigan field goal by senior kicker K.C. Lopata, the Gators resorted to a steady dose of the run game. Meyer, well-known for his innovative spread concepts on offense, employed that thinking once again in the red zone. On an end-around, Harvin caught a toss from Tebow and bolted into the end zone from 10 yards out.
But from there, it was all Michigan.
The loss was not the end of the world for the Gators, however. Led once again by galvanizing quarterback Tebow and a stacked roster, they went on to win the national championship the following year.
As for the Wolverines, their victory in the 2008 Capital One Bowl validated the phrase, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” After some disappointing defeats, they had rebounded and given Carr a reason to hold his head high coming off the field for the final time.