2018 Peach Bowl, Florida vs. Michigan score, takeaways: Gators rout Wolverines in defining win

By Adam Silverstein
December 29, 2018
2018 Peach Bowl, Florida vs. Michigan score, takeaways: Gators rout Wolverines in defining win
Football

Image Credit: UAA Communications

The Florida Gators are winless no longer against the Michigan Wolverines. No. 10 Florida (10-3) routed No. 7 Michigan (10-3) on Saturday in Atlanta at the 2018 Peach Bowl, ending an 0-4 all-time mark against the Wolverines that dated back to 2003. In doing so, the Gators throttled the Wolverines 41-15 behind a stellar offensive effort against the top-ranked defense in the nation entering the game.

Let’s take a look at what went down and what we can take from Florida’s 26-point domination over a burgeoning rival and Big Ten powerhouse in Michigan.

1. Dan’s the man, and the turnaround is real: This header was basically unchanged from UF’s last game, a 41-14 throttling over Florida State. And it’s clear why: It remains true. To put the performance of Florida over its last two games into better perspective, consider that the Gators have won those games by a combined 82-29. When UF faced FSU and UM consecutively to end the 2015 season, it was outscored 22-70 in those games. That’s not to mention the fact that the Gators posted just their third 10-win season this decade, will likely finish among the top seven teams in the nation and scored 41 points against the nation’s top-ranked defense entering the game. (Yes, it was without two key starters on both sides of the ball.)

Head coach Dan Mullen offensive creativity was apparent throughout the contest, from calling designed runs for redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks to key decisions on third and fourth down. That does not mean the Gators always executed — Franks missed two potential touchdowns in the game — but how does one make too big an issue of that when Florida won by 26? Credit also goes to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, whose unit has struggled mightily at times this season. Florida held Michigan to 6 of 15 on third down, keeping the Wolverines without a rushing touchdown for the first time this season and forcing them under 100 yards rushing to boot.

2. This is what quarterback development looks like: Franks’s play is a takeaway in this space every time he suits up, and we spent much of the season lauding his effort — and more importantly, his improvement — while others focused on the negatives. That disparity is again possible in the Peach Bowl as Franks did miss two wide open receivers (both of whom would have easily caught touchdowns). But he also threaded a couple seam passes, made some big runs and stayed turnover-free for the game while serving as a source of motivation for the entire team.

Franks simply got the job done by completing 13-of-23 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for 74 yards and another score (yards deducted for sacks). He was named the game’s offensive Most Outstanding Player for his effort and was emotional both on the field and on the podium after the game. Freshman QB Emory Jones did get three plays in the game, but it was nothing substantial. Anyone who thinks Jones is going to step into the starting role next season is likely mistaken; for better or worse, this is Franks’s job to lose in the spring and summer. It’s quite telling how much he has improved over the season as opposed to clearly getting worse as the year went on last season.

3. Declaring his worth, showing his value: Junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson made two declarations a couple of weeks ago. Not only did he announce that he would leave school early and enter the 2019 NFL Draft pool, he promised Gator Nation that he would stay with the team through the Peach Bowl and ride out the season with his brothers. And boy did he. Gardner-Johnson picked off Wolverines QB Shea Patterson twice on Saturday, once with a spectacular play that will be on NFL evaluators’ radars entering the draft, and again for a pick six that helped the Gators post their 41-point total. He was named the defensive MOP in the game.

No one should hold it against unpaid college athletics deciding to skip bowl games to prepare for their professional future, but the mindsets of the teams on Saturday were clear. Florida rallied behind Gardner-Johnson deciding to play, and his decision clearly paid off for his future. Michigan, on the other hand, saw four starters — two on each side of the ball — choose to leave their team early and train for the NFL. That’s their prerogative, but it also told the Wolverines that the game was not important enough to four of its top players (as opposed to one or two).

4. Recruiting momentum activated: With just over a month until the final National Signing Day of the 2019 cycle, Mullen has a hell of a pitch for recruits: “Look what we did in my first year. Imagine what we can do with you for four years.” The end of Saturday’s game was basically a recruiting pitch for the Gators with the team singing Mullen’s praises to a national audience. Mullen closing his post-game trophy ceremony comments with, “It’s great to be a Florida Gator,” immediately resulted in the entire crowd chanting the popular phrase. And there were also clear holes — parts of the secondary, most of the offensive line — that prospects should know they can come in and fill.

There’s nothing better than ending the season with a victory for a college football team, but one that is looking to finish strong in recruiting and can point to massive, dominant victories over major nonconference opponents in Florida State and Michigan should have a ton of momentum behind it entering an important period. Don’t be surprised to see Florida not only shoot into a top 10 class (from No. 17) but perhaps even higher as they are finalists for a lot of quality players down the stretch.

5. There’s plenty of pieces on the roster: It remains to be seen which draft-eligible players will stay or go, but the Gators saw a lot of great production over the course of the game. Running backs Lamical Perine (junior) and Jordan Scarlett (redshirt junior) totaled 135 yards on 15 carries; each had a touchdown and a run of 30 yards or more in the game. Perine also added a receiving score on an option pitch. Sophomore wide receiver Kadarius Toney joined them with a tremendous 30-yard sweep on fourth-and-1 that led to an eventual score. Redshirt junior WR Van Jefferson showed out with four receptions for 64 yards as well. Defensively, Florida had five sacks — one each from five different players — and sophomore cornerback C.J. Henderson led the way with eight tackles (seven solo). If Mullen can build this roster to his liking, the Gators have the chance to be very good very fast.

Odds and ends: Florida beat Michigan for the first time in program history (1-4) … the teams played for the third time in four seasons … the Gators outgained the Wolverines 427-326 (257-77 rushing) … Florida converted half of its third downs (8 of 16) … the Gators are now 23-21 all-time in bowl games, 15-13 vs. ranked teams and 9-3 in their last 12 bowls … Florida won the first Peach Bowl in program history (1-2) … the Gators finish 3-2 against ranked opponents this season and beat three in a single campaign for the first time since 2012 … Florida is 6-0 when scoring first, 8-0 when leading after the third quarter, 7-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer and 9-0 when outrushing its opponent under Mullen … the Gators won 10 games for the first time since 2015 and the third time since 2009 … Florida has scored in 384 consecutive games, an NCAA record … Mullen improved to 6-2 as a head coach in bowl games … this was the first time since 1990 that an SEC team played a Big Ten team in the Peach Bowl

4 Comments

  1. Kimmie21679 says:

    Congratulations Gators.

  2. Michael Jones says:

    It was a great win. Great season. We have ourselves a great coach, a great staff, and a bunch of great kids who also happen to be talented football players.

    As for the QB position, I expect it to be wide open next spring and fall. Franks has a strong arm, can be a strong runner, and makes SOME plays. But he’s also capable of too many mental head-scratchers. The mental component is HUGE at the QB position, so we’ll see . . but it’s far from a lock. I hope they all get better in the off season. Maybe the game will slow down for him and he will see wide-open guys and stop overthrowing wide-open guys on the long ball.

    As for sitting out a bowl game and abandoning the team who put you in position to be an NFL pick in the first place, I think it sucks. It’s a team sport and you are clearly a ME guy if you make that choice. If I’m an NFL GM, and it’s a close call between two guys, I’m going with the guy who went to battle with his teammates and played in the bowl game. Like Mr. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, for example. That’s a guy you can count on when the chips are down and the bullets are flying. At a very young age, he has become a full-grown man.

    Go Gators!!!

  3. Basshole says:

    Big win and a great finish for the Gators this year. Kudos to Mullen and the team for improving greatly and showing a lot of mental toughness through the year. Thanks for a great season. Go Gators!

  4. WJP says:

    Great read. Go Gators. In Dan I trust.

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