ATLANTA — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh could do nothing but stand behind to the 20-yard line, hands on his knees, body hunched over, stride widened. When running back Lamical Perine took a screen pass five yards, crossing the end zone untouched to extend Florida’s lead to 20-10, the fourth-year head coach stood up, crossed his legs and moved his hands to his hips. No yelling. No outward animosity.
Apathy seemed fitting.
The touchdown set the Gators on their way, as No. 7 Michigan (10-3 overall, 8-1 Big Ten) fell to the No. 10 Florida (10-3, 5-3 SEC), 41-15 in the Peach Bowl on Saturday afternoon, ending a season once filled with title hopes on a fitting whimper. And for Harbaugh, a third straight season in which his team has lost its final two games of the year.
“My feeling about the team is we’re right there to the top, but we have to put it over the top,” Harbaugh said. “Especially in the big games at the end of the year.”
For just over a quarter, though, it seemed like the Wolverines might stamp their first 11-win season since 2011.
After Michigan’s first two drives stalled, the Wolverines offense found a brief rhythm late in the first quarter. It came largely on the shoulders of sophomore receivers, Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Collins caught a 10-yard pass and a 41-yard back-shoulder throw early in the drive, setting up a 10-yard Peoples-Jones touchdown four plays later, giving Michigan a 7-3 lead. The talented duo finished the game with 12 catches and 138 yards combined — and provided the lone source of offensive optimism going into next season.
And for large portions of the first half, Michigan’s defense — missing All-American linebacker Devin Bush and future first round pick Rashan Gary, who both elected to sit out the game in preparation for the draft — bent but didn’t break. The Gators totaled 228 yards in the first half, but late in the second quarter had just six points.
When it broke, though, it did so emphatically and for good.
With 2:41 left in the first half, Florida’s offense finally found the endzone when quarterback Feleipe Franks sprung free for a 21-yard touchdown rush. The run gave Florida a 13-10 lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish. From there, the Gators outscored the Wolverines 28-5.
After allowing just 149 total points in their first 11 games, Michigan’s once-vaunted defense gave up 103 in their final two.
“We had a month to prepare for these guys — it wasn’t necessarily anything we weren’t expecting,” said junior linebacker Josh Ross, who started in place of Bush. “But we just got outplayed; that’s really what it was.”
On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines didn’t fare much better. Michigan’s offense mustered just 137 yards and five points in the second half, displaying a seeming indifference as the game spiraled out of control. Patterson was intercepted twice by Florida safety Chancey Gardner-Johnson, the latter of which he returned for the final score of the game. Without senior running back Karan Higdon, the rushing attack mustered its lowest total rushing yards since the season-opener against Notre Dame, with 77.
As the clock continued to churn in the second half, reality began to set in. Perine and fellow running back Jordan Scarlett scored on consecutive third quarter drives, stretching the lead to 27-13. Then on third-and-20, Perine scampered 53 yards into the endzone with 9:21 left.
Gardner-Johnson provided the cherry on top shortly thereafter, nabbing his pick-six with 4:43 left, knocking Michigan into a long offseason sure to be filled with questions and, fans will hope, deep introspection.
For the time being, Harbaugh offered little such reflection.
“I thought they were ready,” he said, simply.
“Emotionally ready?” a reporter followed up.
“I thought they were emotionally ready, yeah.”