Michigan vs. Florida: Battle of top defenses

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jourdan Lewis has 49 tackles, two interceptions and 19 pass breakups this season.

Angelique S. Chengelis breaks down Friday's Michigan-Florida Citrus Bowl game at the Orlando Citrus Bowl (1 p.m., ABC/WWJ, WMGC).

Gators to watch

Treon Harris, QB: The sophomore has had some struggles since replacing Will Grier (suspended, drug test). Harris did help lead Florida to the Southeastern Conference title game, but in the last six games he’s thrown for 200 yards once. Coach Jim McElwain said he needs to “cut the ball loose” against Michigan.

Jalen Tabor, CB: A 5-foot-11, 195-pound sophomore, he didn’t get as much national attention as teammate Vernon Hargreaves III (AP first team All-American), but statistically has been more productive. He has four INTs (two returned for TDs, tied for first in nation) and 14 pass breakups. Tabor, who was suspended one game for refusing a drug test, also played at nickel and dime.

Antonio Callaway, WR: The 5-foot-11, 198-pounder leads the Gators in receiving (603 yards, 30 catches) and ranks first in the nation among true freshmen in yards per reception (20.1). With 13 yards he will set the Florida record for highest receiving total by a freshman (615 yards, Reidel Anthony 1994). Callaway is also the first Gators player with 400 return yards and 600-plus receiving.


Comes down to offense: It can’t be defense versus defense, but a main story line is how comparable statistically Michigan and Florida are defensively. Michigan is fourth in nation in total defense, giving up 281.3 yards per game, and Florida is sixth (295.4). What this boils down to is the offense — which one can find a way to score. Michigan needs to find a run game, which has been anemic of late, and hope QB Jake Rudock plays error-free. Florida needs to get more production from QB Treon Harris.

Perfect 10: Michigan has been motivated by that number since losing to Ohio State. The Wolverines were 5-7 last season and missed a bowl, and reaching double-digit wins is a bar-setter. Michigan hasn’t had double-digit wins since going 11-2 in 2011.

Will he or won’t he? No one, not Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh nor S Jabrill Peppers is saying if Peppers will play. He is “working through something,” both have said, and Peppers has been seen with a splint on his right index finger. Michigan will be fine without him on defense and the return game, but he had given the offense a spark, something the Wolverines might need against the sixth-rated Gators defense.

Breaking a streak: Florida finished the season with back-to-back losses. The Gators won the SEC East and finished 10-3, but no team wants to end a season on a three-game losing streak.

First year’s a charm: Florida coach Jim McElwain is in his first season and Jim Harbaugh is in his first season at Michigan. McElwain, the third first-year coach in SEC history to reach the conference title game, has 10 wins, while Harbaugh, who has made this a structured, business-type trip, would like to match him.

Facts and figures

*This is the third time Michigan has played Florida, leading the series 2-0. The last time they met was in the 2008 Citrus Bowl. In Lloyd Carr’s final game after 13 seasons, Michigan defeated Urban Meyer and Co., 41-35.

*Michigan is not a newcomer to the Citrus Bowl. This is the fifth time the Wolverines have played here and are 3-1. Michigan’s only loss was in 2002, as Tennessee dominated, 45-17.

*While Michigan’s roster isn’t dominated by Florida players, there are 10 Floridians. That group includes QB Jake Rudock and starting LT Mason Cole.

*Florida RB Kelvin Taylor has 985 yards on 248 carries, and his 13 TDs tie his father, Fred Taylor (1997), for fifth-most by a Gators player in school history.

*The Gators have allowed 25 TDs, fourth-fewest in the SEC and tied for sixth-fewest among FBS teams. Michigan has allowed 12 rushing TDs, not a one in seven games. Opponents scored seven passing TDs against Michigan.