You all know the storylines. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr’s last game. The supposed heat between Carr and opposing coach Urban Meyer from last season’s National Championship Game hoopla. And finally Gator quarterback Tim Tebow, the newest member of the Heisman club.
With all the chips seemingly stacked against the Wolverines, can they break a five-game losing streak in bowl games?
Well, probably not on paper.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Florida rushing defense
Two words that Wolverine fans and players rejoice to see. The star running back should return to full health from a high ankle sprain after six weeks of healing time.
Florida’s rush defense is 11th in the country, allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground and no more than 48 yards to any runner in their last four games.
Hart is by far the best runner the Gators will face during the final stretch, though, and might be the best back Florida has seen all season. But the Michigan offensive line has struggled to open holes for Hart late in the year, meaning it might be difficult for the big Wolverine linemen to block the Gators’ fast linebackers.
Michigan passing offense vs. Florida passing defense
Quarterback Chad Henne should sufficiently recover from the separated throwing shoulder that limited him in the final games of the regular season, and his return makes the Wolverines much more explosive through the air.
Receivers Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington and Greg Mathews shouldn’t struggle to get open against a subpar Gator secondary that allowed 249 yards per game through the air and 16 passing touchdowns on the year.
The secondary looks like the one weak part of a Gator team that has given up 20 or more points in all but two games this season.
Florida rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense.
You could scour the country, and we’re not sure you’d find a worse match-up for Michigan in this category than the Gators. Tebow, this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, leads the team with 838 yards on the ground and 22 rushing touchdowns. Given how much the Wolverines struggled to contain even Wisconsin’s Tyler Donovan, they don’t appear to have much of a chance here.
If the Gators want to give someone else a shot to run on Michigan, they have numerous options. Wide receiver Percy Harvin is one of the most dangerous players in the country, and he’s racked up 599 yards on the ground this season, averaging almost nine yards per carry. Tailback Kestahn Moore isn’t too far behind Harvin, either, tallying 571 rushing yards and finding the end zone six times.
Michigan passing defense vs. Florida passing offense
You might want to just look at Michigan rushing defense vs. Florida rushing offense, because either way, the Wolverines face the same problem: Tim Tebow.
When Tebow isn’t slashing through his line on the run, he’s beating defenses through the air. In fact, he ranks as the nation’s second most effective passer, completing 68 percent of his passes for over 3,100 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Sure, Michigan had some success stopping spread offenses during the Big Ten season, but, as it learned late in the year, it’s the running quarterback that’s the problem. Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan, for instance, scrambled from pressure often, and his threat to run often left men open downfield. Donovan’s good, but he’s no Tebow.
At its best, Michigan features a decent special teams unit. At its worst – which it plays at far more often – it’s a useless one.
Kicker K.C. Lopata has done an admirable job since earning his spot midseason, and he’s a perfect 8-for-8 from inside 40 yards. But as his 48-yard miss against Ohio State proved, Carr needs to consider going for it on fourth down from any deeper than the 25, even if the weather is a little nicer than it was against the Buckeyes.
Punter Zoltan Mesko returned to form against Ohio State, booming a number of punts, including a career-long 68 yarder. But his great punts don’t help as much when his teammates provide poor coverage, which is more often than not.
And then there’s the return team, which we can’t really think of something nice to say about. Michigan’s kick return unit is among the worst ten in the nation, and its punt return unit isn’t that much better.
Florida, on the other hand, features one of the nation’s best return men in running back Brandon James, best punt coverage and a punt return team that has blocked four punts.
Had Michigan known it would be destined for the Capital One Bowl at the start of the season, it would have considered it a disappointment. By the end of the year, Michigan needed luck to even make it there.
Even if the Wolverines would rather not be in Orlando, it is Carr’s final game, so they’ll likely be keyed up to win it for him. And after failing to accomplish some of its other goals, you’d figure the senior class would like to at least win one bowl game before it graduates.
Orlando is less than a two-hour drive from the Florida campus, though, making this more or less a home game for the Gators.
Florida 34, Michigan 21