ORLANDO, Fla. – A single wall separated the Michigan and Florida locker rooms in the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
That wasn’t enough of a barrier to keep the Gator trash talk from seeping through the barrier into the Wolverine lair, and the Michigan players took notice – especially when the Florida swagger carried onto the field during pre-game warmups.
“Before the game, the wide receivers were coming over and talking trash,” senior safety Jamar Adams said. “Their team was coming over and talking trash. We could hear them talking through the walls.”
Since the Capital One Bowl matchup was decided on Dec. 2 pitting the defending National Champion Gators against unranked Michigan, the Wolverines heard everything the expert analysts had to say.
None of the predictions gave unranked Michigan any chance to compete, let alone win.
The Florida offense, boasting that heralded Southeastern Conference speed and a Heisman-Trophy winning quarterback, was supposed to have a field day with a Wolverine defense that helped launch Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon’s Heisman campaign.
“You hear all throughout the weeks that it’s not even going to be close,” wide receiver Adrian Arrington said. “It’s going to be a rout. They’re going to beat us by 50. Even their players were saying that. We had a big chip on our shoulder, and we came out here and played.”
With all the odds stacked against them (Las Vegas had the Wolverines as a double-digit underdog), Arrington and the rest of his teammates came out with jawing rarely seen from the Michigan sideline.
Most fans expected to see the gator-chomp motion throughout the game, but from those in the orange and blue uniforms, not the maize and blue.
After just about every positive play, a Michigan player celebrated with a gator chomp or some sort of taunt, and the contest grew testier as it went along.
“It was definitely getting intense, but it’s all in fun,” Arrington said with a smile after the game.
The members of the Michigan defense especially took offense to the national pundits, particularly ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, discrediting their unit before the game.
Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English said he didn’t need to use any bulletin-board material because his players had already heard it all.
The Gators were supposed to run over and around the Wolverines with the 235-pound Tebow. Florida had the sub 4.4 speed in Percy Harvin to run around the “slow” Michigan defense. And Urban Meyer’s squad had the spread scheme to create the mismatches that had haunted the Wolverine defense against Appalachian State, Oregon and numerous other teams.
But none of that mattered to the group of seniors looking to reestablish some respect for the Michigan football program.
“We see the TV, we see the paper, we see conversations, and they doubt us,” senior Chris Graham said. “It’s about time now that we can show that we can play and stand up to the credentials that Michigan football has had over the years.”
The Wolverines had plenty of motivating factors heading into the Capital One Bowl, but who could have guessed trash talk seeping through a wall would push them over the edge?
“Everybody doubted us, and we liked it that way,” senior Jake Long said. “And we shocked them, baby, we shocked them.”