MICHIGAN VS. FLORIDA
Kickoff: 3:30 Saturday, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Line: Michigan by 5
View from the other side
Nick de la Torre, Florida Gators beat writer for GatorCountry.com, breaks down the Gators for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into the season opener against Michigan on Saturday. You can follow his work on Twitter @NickdelaTorreGC.
1. Who will start at quarterback for Florida? How many quarterbacks will play?
Well, we now know that Feleipe Franks will start for the Gators. I pressed Jim McElwain, asking if the game was Franks’ alone or if they would still try and get all three quarterbacks some snaps Friday. He, predictably, didn’t show his hand, but hey, shooters shoot.
This will be Franks’ first snap in a meaningful game since the state championship he played in as a senior in high school. He’s a prototypical drop back passer with a huge arm but his head will be swimming with the way Don Brown disguises defenses and we don’t know how a redshirt freshman making his first start will handle that. You have to wonder also how a redshirt freshman will play if he’s yanked from the game for the guy he beat out for the job. With all that in mind I think it’s Franks’ game on Saturday unless he’s really struggling. I think Malik Zaire still has some packages, run-pass-option, read-option stuff to keep Michigan’s defense on its toes, but this will be Franks’ game.
2. Will the suspensions hurt the Gators?
Florida will be without 10 players (not a typo) this weekend. Only two of the 10 players will truly impact Florida. Those two are Antonio Callaway and Jordan Scarlett, who led the Gators in receiving yards and rushing yards respectively last season. There’s no way to spin this for Florida. They are not a better football team without these two players.
Florida has recruited the receiver position better since McElwain took over but they’ll also be missing one of those big recruits in James Robinson after he was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana during his first month on campus. The Gators have a great backup running back in Lamical Perine, who took over the backup role midway through 2016. He’s a physical back who won’t shy away from contact and he’s good in pass protection. After Perine, however, Florida has a back in Mark Thompson who has struggled with fumbles and two freshmen. The coaches like Malik Davis, who I think might move past Thompson on the depth chart. He’s a smaller, shiftier back, which compliments Perine well.
3. Which player is key on offense?
The key player on offense is going to be the whole offensive line. It would be easy to say quarterback, whoever is in, or Jordan Scarlett at running back, or Tyrie Cleveland stepping up in place of Callaway but the real answer is the line. Two years ago a bigger and more physical Michigan defensive line flat out bullied them. The Wolverines have an impressive defensive front again and if the Gators can’t handle that and get run over it won’t matter what the skill players do because the line will be picking up their quarterback off the ground.
4. Which player is key on defense?
The key player on defense is fifth year senior Nick Washington (this won’t be a popular answer among Gator fans). Florida has a lot of turnover on defense this season and they’re going to rely on a lot of freshmen. Washington is the oldest player on the defense and he’s like the quarterback of the defense playing safety. he’s making calls and checks and getting everyone on the same page before the play. Florida lost their other senior leader when Marcell Harris went down before the season. If you take Washington out of this defense I don’t know if they have another player that fills that veteran role.
5. What does Jim McElwain really think of Jim Harbaugh?
I think there is a lot of mutual respect from an X’s and O’s standpoint between both guys. They’re both former quarterbacks and fierce competitors. That being said, I don’t think either Jim will be sending the other an invitation to hang out after the football season.
Three players to watch
Feleipe Franks, QB: The 6-foot-5, 227-pound Franks won the battle in the spring over Kyle Trask, also a redshirt freshman, but he was thrust into another competition in camp. He was named the starter for the season opener, beating out grad transfer Malik Zaire and redshirt junior Luke Del Rio, the Gators’ most experienced quarterback. Franks will be making his first college start.
Tyrie Cleveland, WR: Cleveland became the third true freshman at Florida to have a 100-yard receiving game when he had 124 yards against LSU last season. That total included a 98-yard reception, the longest by a freshman in program history. He was a prolific receiver in high school with 2,091 yards on 99 receptions and 27 touchdowns during his final two seasons.
Duke Dawson, CB: Dawson, a 5-foot-10, 202-pound senior, made seven starts at nickel last season. He made his lone interception memorable, returning it for a touchdown. He led the Gators with seven pass breakups. He finished with 24 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and he forced a fumble.
Facts and figures
First time for everything: This is the first time Michigan and Florida have met in the regular season, but it will be their fourth overall meeting. Michigan is 3-0 against the Gators, having won each bowl matchup — 2003 Outback Bowl (38-30), 2008 Capital One Bowl (41-35) and 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (41-7).
Opening streaks: Florida has the longest opening day winning streak in the country at 27 games. Michigan has won seven of its last 10 season openers. Under Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines are 1-1 in season openers (24-17 loss at Utah in 2015 and a 63-3 victory over Hawaii in 2016).
Back in the SEC: The Wolverines will face a Southeastern Conference school for the 34th time. They are 24-8-1 in those meetings, including 8-5 in bowl matchups.