ORLANDO — The Florida Gators (10-3, 7-1 SEC) and Michigan Wolverines (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) are two of the most storied programs in college football but they have rarely met on the gridiron. The Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl will be just the third meeting between the two schools (Michigan is 2-0). With an out of conference opponent, and a team that is on the last game of a new coaching staff’s first season, there are a lot of unknowns about the Wolverines in Gator Country.
Let’s take a look at the five biggest playmakers on both sides of the ball, guys that head coach Jim McElwain and the Gators will need to gameplan for as they prepare for their last game of the season.
Jake Rudock — Quarterback — Senior
Stats: 229-358 (64%) 2,739 yards, 17 TD, 9 INT
A graduate transfer from Iowa, Rudock (a product of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida) has given Michigan stability at the quarterback position. Jim Harbaugh called Rudock a “godsend” for his football team even after Rudock threw five interceptions in his first three games in maize and blue.
Michigan’s passing offense is sixth in the Big Ten (234.3 yards per game) this season and Rudock is the catalyst of that.
Jabril Peppers — Safety/Athlete — RS Freshman
Stats: Defense: 45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 10 pass breakups
Offense: 18 carries, 72 yards, 2 TD, 8 receptions, 79 yards
Returner: 17 punt returns, 194 yards, 8 kick returns, 223 yards
Peppers does a lot of everything for Michigan. A starting safety, Peppers is also Michigan’s best returner and has packages set up for him to get the ball on offense. The New Jersey product is the best player on the team and Harbaugh has done a good job of making sure Peppers is given the opportunity to play with the ball in his hands.
On defense, Peppers is a ball hawk and a hard-hitting safety. Florida needs to know where he is at all times as he’s someone who can make Treon Harris and the offense pay for a mistake. On special teams, Peppers has put up better numbers than Michigan legend Desmond Howard during Howard’s Heisman season in 1991.
Jourdan Lewis — cornerback — Junior
Stats: 49 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 21 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble
Lewis has been Michigan’s best cornerback this season. His 21 pass breakups are second in the Big Ten and a Michigan season record. Pro Football Focus mentioned Lewis as a Heisman candidate in November, stating that Lewis had been targeted 72 times this season, allowing just 26 receptions and only allowed a receiver to catch more than 40 yards on him once.
Lewis has been lights out all season and he’ll likely draw matchups with Demarcus Robinson and Antonio Callaway, Florida’s best receivers.
Jake Butt — Tight End — Junior
Stats: 48 receptions, 620 yards, 3 TD
Butt was named the Big Ten tight end of the year. Butt had 20 more receptions and 255 more total yards than the next best tight end in the conference. His 48 receptions are more than any player on Florida’s roster. Butt is Michigan’s best receiver and has become Rudock’s go-to target on big downs. The 6-6, 250 pound tight end is a matchup nightmare for most teams and will be a lot to handle for Florida. Brian Poole and Marcus Maye will likely be tasked with covering him, but if Michigan can find matchups with any of the Florida linebackers they can make Florida pay.
Amara Darboh — Receiver — Senior
Stats: 56 receptions, 703 yards, 5 TD
Darboh led the Wolverines in receptions and yards this season. His five touchdowns were second on the team.
Darboh’s story is amazing. Darboh was born in Sierra Leon, Africa just as civil war began to break out in the country. Darboh’s parents were both killed in the first five years of his life and Darboh had to escape the country with a group of relatives on foot to Gambia and Senegal before having the opportunity to move to American in 2001.
Darboh saved his best season for last but will face a tough task when lined up against any of Florida’s three cornerbacks.