Gator-slayed: Michigan's season ends with a thud in lopsided Peach Bowl loss to Florida
Atlanta — The rallying cry after Michigan’s dismal performance at Ohio State in the final regular-season was winning an 11th game to send out the seniors on a positive note while giving the returning players a lift heading into the 2019 season.
Michigan, ranked No. 7 in the College Football Playoff, got a third defeat, not an 11th victory in a 41-15 loss to No. 10 Florida in the New Year’s Six Peach Bowl on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the second-straight game the No. 1 defense has taken body blow after body blow.
Michigan was 4-0 against Florida entering this game.
The Wolverines finish the 2018 season, Jim Harbaugh’s fourth as head coach, 10-3, while Florida is 10-3 in Dan Mullen’s first season.
For the third-straight season, Michigan has lost the Ohio State game and then the bowl game. Harbaugh is 1-3 in bowl games.
“They were just a better team,” defensive end Chase Winovich said. “This is just an observation, for the most part they had us figured out. They knew what we were in and how to manipulate it. Hats off to (Florida) coach (Dan) Mullen and their coaching staff. They outplayed us.”
Some will point to the absences of four starters — Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Devin Bush, defensive end Rashan Gary, running back Karan Higdon and right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who chose not to play in the bowl game. Bush, Gary and Higdon are preparing for the NFL Draft, while Bushell-Beatty wasn’t fully healthy.
The defense also took hits with injuries in the first half when linebacker Devin Gil and defensive end Kwity Paye left the game with hamstring injuries. Cornerback David Long left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury.
This was Michigan’s second-worst offensive production this season since in gained 307 in the opener. The Wolverines finished with 326 yards. But Harbaugh said his team was not flat.
“I thought they were ready,” Harbaugh said. “I thought they were emotionally ready.”
During Michigan’s 10-game winning streak, after losing the opener at Notre Dame, opponents scored 125 points. In the Wolverines' last two games, Ohio State and Florida combined for 103.
The Gators rushed for 257 yards while Michigan gained only 77.
“Their running backs did a very good job in terms of breaking tackles and making big plays,” linebacker Jordan Glasgow said. “Usually we don’t allow those kinds of things to happen, but that was the defining factor. Their run game was much better than we’ve allowed. A few passes shouldn’t have been completed (and) defensively we can’t allow for missed tackles and opportunities.
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks threw for 173 yards and a touchdown and ran for 74 yards and a touchdown. The Gators had three rushing touchdowns, including a 53-yarder and 20-yard run.
It had been five weeks since the Wolverines lost at Ohio State, but even with the time, the game-planning, particularly on offense, looked stale and uninventive.
Quarterback Shea Patterson, who recently announced he will return for his final year of eligibility, was 22-of-36 for 236 yards and had one touchdown but two interceptions, including a pick six in the fourth quarter.
Without Higdon, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, the Wolverines went with freshman Christian Turner, junior Chris Evans and Tru Wilson. Turner had 32 yards on seven carries, while Evans had 20 yards on seven carries. Turner had a 46-yard touchdown run in the first series of the game called back because he stepped out of bounds.
The Gators completed their scoring with a 30-yard interception return.
“Combination of things,” Harbaugh said when asked what went wrong with the offense. “Started out not picking up in the third and short and the fourth and very short. That hurt. That hurt one drive (not converting on 4th down and 1). We were moving the ball at times and close to getting into a rhythm, but we didn’t get the run game going effectively enough.
“Or the passing game, the protection and the rhythm in that area to make it — we got outplayed, really, on both sides of the ball. Florida did a nice job defensively.”
Florida converted on half of its 16 third-down conversions and did not have a turnover.
“Defensively, it was really the same story,” Harbaugh said. “We didn’t play as well. Had missed calls, adjustments. We left a couple receivers wide open, some things that we don’t normally do.”
Left guard Ben Bredeson, a co-captain, said the Wolverines will keep this loss in their minds but won’t dwell on it.
“We have a pretty bad taste in our mouths right now with this loss, so it’s going to fuel us for next year,” Bredeson said. “But (we’ll) keep drawing positives. We made a lot of progress from the year before.
“I don’t think (this loss) is going to linger too much, but it’s definitely going to be on our heads.”