TAMPA, Fla. – Officials from Rubbermaid are actively pursuing the Michigan defense to participate in a new ad campaign promoting a product that stretches for hundreds of yards, but never seems to break.
Well, not really. But it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The Wolverines have perfected a bend, but don’t break approach to defense this season, and it was more of the same against Florida in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Michigan had more than a month to prepare for Florida’s no-huddle offense, recently tweaked from former coach Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ‘n Gun” that dazzled opponents during a decade of Gator dominance.
“The coaches did a great job of getting us ready,” Michigan defensive tackle Grant Bowman said. “(During) our whole bowl practice, we practiced with the no huddle. We didn’t have to huddle and we knew our signals from the sideline.”
“We saw teams not ready to go out of a huddle (on film), and that’s part of (Florida’s) plan,” Michigan defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann said. “It really helped us tremendously in terms of limiting their game plan some.”
It would be hard to imagine what the Gators could have done with an unlimited game plan. Florida bent the Michigan defense to the tune of 506 yards of total offense, but couldn’t muster enough points in the Gators’ 38-30 loss to Michigan.
Wherever and whenever the Gators wanted to run, they could. Florida running back Earnest Graham exposed the supposedly staunch Michigan rush defense for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Ran Carthon added 56 yards on just six carries, as Florida spread the field and hit the gaps in the porous Michigan defense for more than six yards per carry.
The Michigan pass defense turned Florida quarterback Rex Grossman into the Heisman Trophy candidate he was pegged to be. Grossman connected on 21-of-41 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns, even though he was pressured for most of the afternoon by the Michigan defense, which registered four sacks.
The Florida receivers, who Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson tabbed “average” and worse than receivers in the Big Ten after the game, had Michigan’s safeties diving all over the field and coming up with air.
“We missed some tackles, which is always discouraging,” Herrmann said. “(But) the biggest thing is when we needed to for our football team, we went out there and made stops. Those are the things that win football games.
“Florida is a great team, they are going to hit some plays.”
The Gators averaged just 26 points per game this season under first-year coach Ron Zook. Perhaps Herrmann was referring to the Gators of 2001, who averaged an unbelievable 45 points per game.
Bonjour Gators: Michigan defensive end Alain Kashama, nicknamed the “Sackmaster,” had a coming out party against the Gators. Michigan fans and coaches have been waiting for Kashama, one of three French Canadian players on the team, to take his 4.4 40-yard dash and 6-foot-5, 259-pound frame and turn them into results on the field.
Kashama, who filled in for an injured Shantee Orr earlier this season, caught the attention of his coaches with two great weeks of bowl preparation. The Montreal native took full advantage, tallying four tackles (two for losses), a sack and two game-changing plays that his defense desperately needed.
With six minutes left in the first quarter, Kashama beat Grossman to a bad snap, recovering the ball for the Wolverines at the Florida 3-yard line. Michigan running back Chris Perry would eventually score the first of his four touchdowns to give Michigan the lead, 7-0.
Then, with just over a minute to go and Florida driving at the Michigan 27-yard line down 38-30, Kashama made the play of the game. The Gators baffled everyone in Raymond James Stadium except Kashama and the Michigan defense, calling for a double-reverse pass that was supposed to go from wide receiver Vernell Brown to Grossman. Kashama, who said he recognized the play from practice, broke free and grabbed Brown 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, forcing a heave that fell into the arms of Michigan linebacker Victor Hobson.
“He’s matured as a football player,” Herrmann said. “You think about if your major language is French, and everything you hear is in English, that’s hard. He’s done a good job of sticking with it.”
Herrmann said that he is “going to have to” find a way to get Kashama and other athletes like redshirt freshman Pierre Woods on the field more next season.
“We’ve got to do something, because those guys are phenoms athletically,” Bowman said. “I think we’re going to find ways to get them on the field. They’re tough guys and such athletes that we have to.”
After the game, Kashama – a team comedian – was ecstatic about his performance. But he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“Right now I just want to concentrate on doing what (the coaches) ask me to do,” Kashama said. “I used to try and be on my own, but now I want to try and ‘get with the program,’ like Americans say.”
Injury update: Michigan wide receiver and reverse specialist Calvin Bell did not play in the Outback Bowl because of an injury suffered in bowl practices. Michigan linebacker Carl Diggs, who broke his right ankle in the Ohio State game, will miss spring practice and won’t return until two-a-days in August. Jackson, the Wolverines’ best cornerback, hurt his groin on a crucial pass break-up in the end zone against Florida receiver Taylor Jacobs. Michigan left tackle Courtney Morgan did not play against the Gators, as redshirt freshman Adam Stenavich played the entire game.