2018 Peach Bowl, Florida vs. Michigan: Profiling the Gators’ bowl game opponent

By Drew Laing
December 11, 2018
2018 Peach Bowl, Florida vs. Michigan: Profiling the Gators’ bowl game opponent
Football

Image Credit: ESPN Images

The No. 10 Florida Gators will travel to Atlanta, Georgia, to take on the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines in the 2018 Peach Bowl on Dec. 29. This season-ending game will conclude a surprising and encouraging 2018 campaign for the Gators, which finished with just four wins last season. First-year head coach Dan Mullen and put forward an impressive Florida team to this point but face arguably their toughest challenge of the season in Michigan.

Let’s get to know exactly what this Michigan team is all about.

Michigan Wolverines

Record: 10-2 (8-1)
Series vs. Florida: 4-0

Scoring offense: 36.8 ppg (19th in FBS)
Scoring defense: 17.6 ppg (12th in FBS)

Total offense: 427.3 ypg (44th in FBS)
Total defense: 262.5 ypg (1st in FBS)

Notable stats:
» Michigan allowed more than 21 points only once all season — in the final regular season game, a road loss to Ohio State.
» This will be the third time in 11 years that Florida and Michigan will meet in the postseason.
» Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is 2-3 in bowl games, including 1-2 with the Wolverines with losses each of the last two seasons.

Offensive player to watch — RB Karan Higdon: If you’re looking for a revenge game narrative, you may find one with the 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior. The Sarasota, Florida, native was a three-star recruit out of high school, playing football just a few hours from the University of Florida campus. The Gators, however, did not extend a scholarship offer to Higdon, who eventually enrolled at Michigan.

More importantly, Higdon has grown into one of Michigan’s most important players — arguably the most important player on offense. His 107.1 rushing yards per game rank him 16th nationally; he’s totaled 1,178 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the year while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Higdon was a unanimous selection for the first-team all-conference honors by both the coaches and the media. Michigan is deep at running back, but Higdon unquestionably leads the group.

Defensive player to watch — LB Devin Bush: It’s been a standout season for the junior linebacker and team captain, who was selected as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The two-time All-American had 80 tackles and five sacks for the Wolverines, along with six pass breakups. Bush is a projected first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft expected to leave the program after this bowl game.

Florida’s offense was on a roll to end the season, gaining more than 500 yards in each of the last three games. All year long, it’s been Florida’s running game that’s been the offensive engine, and you can bet Bush will be the key on defense for Michigan when it comes to stifling the Gators on the ground.

Notable absence — DE Rashan Gary: The former No. 1 ranked high school recruit will not be on the field for Michigan in the Peach Bowl against Florida. Soon after the conclusion of the season, Gary announced he would forego his remaining college eligibility and enter the 2019 NFL Draft. He’s also decided to skip the Peach Bowl to focus on his draft preparation. In his career at Michigan, he recorded 137 tackles with 24 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Some would argue his career was largely disappointing given the hype he received when he came to school, but I’m sure the Gators won’t miss his 6-foot-5, 283-pound frame along the defensive line during the game.

The Peach Bowl will kick off at noon ET and be televised on ESPN as the first game of a tripleheader that concludes with both College Football Playoff semifinals in the evening.

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