ORLANDO, Fla. — Doug Nussmeier left Michigan in the coaching transition last December after one tumultuous year as offensive coordinator. He quickly took a job in the same position at Florida, Michigan’s opponent in the Citrus Bowl on Friday.
But Nussmeier rejected the idea that he got back on his feet.
“I didn’t know I got knocked down first,” Nussmeier said. “Shoot, I had a great time at Michigan. Obviously the season didn’t go the way we wanted to. But that’s football. And when you’re around this business long enough and you see the ups and downs and the ins and outs, you live day to day and you focus on each snap, each drive, each quarter.”
Nussmeier’s Michigan offense struggled in 2014. The Wolverines ranked 115th in the country with 333 yards per game, and they averaged just 20.9 points, tying for 111th nationally. They threw 18 interceptions and passed for 170.2 yards per game.
Before coming to Ann Arbor, he had spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. And when Nussmeier was ousted from Michigan after a 5-7 season last year, he got a fresh start in Gainesville, and in his return to the South, the Gators are 10-3 heading into the bowl.
Still, Nussmeier’s offense this season has endured similar struggles. Florida ranks 98th in the country with 24.5 points per game and 110th with 339.7 yards per game, nearly repeating the numbers he had at Michigan last season. But the Gators’ defense has helped carry the team.
“We’re very young,” Nussmeier said of his offense. “The defensive players have veteran leadership that we have on that side of the ball. We don’t have nearly as many on offense.”
Florida also lost starting quarterback Will Grier to a suspension in October. At that time, the Gators were 6-0, but they went just 4-3 the rest of the way and scored 17.9 points per game.
“The thing that we’ve found over the last half of the season is that we’ve got a lot of growth (to go). We need to grow. A lot of the young guys are playing, and we’re expecting a lot from the older players like (tight end Jake McGee) to bring those guys along. And it’s a learning curve.”
Offensive numbers notwithstanding, Nussmeier and Michigan both find themselves in better places than at this time last year. And Wednesday, Nussmeier had no bad things to say about the Wolverines.
“I love those kids in that locker room,” he said. “I want Florida to win this game, and I’m on Florida’s team and I love our players and are excited about the opportunity. But there’s a lot of great kids in their locker room.”
WILL PEPPERS PLAY?: At the Citrus Bowl’s Kids Day on Wednesday, redshirt freshman safety Jabrill Peppers spoke briefly with media but shed little light on his reported injury. He has been seen with a soft cast on his hand, but was not wearing it Wednesday and did not confirm the injury.
“Y’all can speculate whatever y’all want to speculate,” Peppers said.
Peppers’ status for Friday is uncertain, but if he can’t go, a host of players would likely fill his duties. Redshirt sophomore safety Dymonte Thomas or junior safety Delano Hill would start at safety, and junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis would stay on the kick-return team. Lewis or redshirt junior wide receiver Jehu Chesson could take over the punt-return duties.
“It’s nothing we have to do to make up for his absence,” Thomas said. “Coach always says, ‘Next man up.’ The way we practice, and the way we’ve been practicing, is always a lot of guys rotating in there. So just in case something like that does happen, we can be ready for it. We can adapt to it.”