ATLANTA — In the middle of the fourth quarter of the Michigan football team’s matchup with Florida in the Peach Bowl, the Wolverines’ defense sat on the sideline.
The unit had just allowed a 53-yard touchdown run to Gators running back Lamical Perine on third-and-20, when a stop would have given Michigan the ball back down two touchdowns. The Wolverines couldn’t get Perine to the ground, though, and the most embarrassing play of a disappointing game unfolded to make the score 34-13 and all but end the game.
That is when junior VIPER Khaleke Hudson decided to speak up. In the middle of his defensive teammates, Hudson stood up and started yelling angrily, clearly frustrated by how his team had performed to that point.
“(It was) the basic stuff,” said redshirt junior VIPER Jordan Glasgow. “That we worked too hard to let something like this happen to us. I’m pretty sure directly after he said that he blocked a punt. I mean, things didn’t go our way after the blocked punt, but he was just showing the passion that he’s played with all season.”
Hudson did block a punt on the next possession for a safety, but by that point it was too little, too late, as Florida would go on to win, 41-15.
Frustration is appropriate for any Michigan player, and especially those on the defense.
The Wolverines spent all season as the No. 1 team in total defense. When Michigan ripped off a 10-game win streak in the middle of the season, it was its defense that dominated teams, beating them into submission over and over again.
And yet, when the Wolverines needed their defense at the end of the season, when the stakes were raised, and the opponents were better, the unit wilted. They gave up a program-record 62 points to No. 6 Ohio State and then allowed 41 more to the tenth-ranked Gators on Saturday. That is 103 points in two games for a team that allowed 149 in its other 11 games.
“It sucks,” said sophomore linebacker Josh Ross. “It sucks to let up that many points versus these teams. Like I said, although this was the outcome we did not want, we go into spring ball, we go into workouts and we regroup from this and grow from this and we use this as a learning experience so this never happens again.”
The poor results came in different ways, too.
Against the Buckeyes, Michigan was carved through the air, allowing 396 passing yards. Florida found its success on the ground, though, rushing for 257 yards. Even quarterback Feleipe Franks, who is not known for his legs, ended the day with 74 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“Their running backs did a very good job in terms of breaking tackles and making big plays,” Glasgow said. “Usually, we don’t allow those kinds of things to happen, but that was the deciding factor.”
In a vacuum, Saturday’s loss might be excusable. Michigan had championship aspirations all season, and after the loss to the Buckeyes, the Peach Bowl felt like a consolation prize. Add to that the fact that two of the Wolverines’ best defensive players — junior linebacker Devin Bush and junior defensive end Rashan Gary — sat out to prepare for the NFL Draft, and it is understandable that the Wolverines’ defense would take a step back.
But what is concerning is that this game was meant to serve as a preview for what is to come for the Wolverines next season. Bush and Gary aren’t coming back, and Ross and Hudson and junior linebacker Devin Gil, among others, are the next men up.
On Saturday, those next men up weren’t good enough.
“They were just a better team,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich. “At the end of the day, they seemed like they had us. … They knew what we were in and how to manipulate it.”