As the Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines close-in on their Peach Bowl match-up, the teams seem to be moving in different directions.
Michigan coming off a blow-out loss to Ohio State has had four starters announce that they would not be playing in the upcoming Bowl game, while the Gators fresh off their first win against Florida State in six tries and riding high has their entire roster suited-up to play and their energy seems as high as its been in years.
Now, we know, games aren’t won with pre-game energy, and for the Florida Gators, a team who has never beaten the University of Michigan in football, they know they can’t win the game just behind a microphone or confidence on Twitter, they will need to put it together in the air, on the ground, in the trenches, and outcoach a strong Michigan team that was one victory away from a likely spot in the College Football Playoff.
Michigan and Florida match-up very closely, as previously talked about. They are both strong rushing attacks that don’t pass often, they don’t often get sacked, and have the exact same turnover margin on the season. The team that wins will have to exploit either an area of weakness the other team has or hold well below certain season averages to come out victorious.
Here are three statistical battles that I think could define the December 29th battle.
The Gators have a -3 turnover margin in losses on the season, with a +13 in games they have won. They have caused a turnover in the last three games and in nine of twelve games on the season, causing 24 turnovers. Conversely, they have turned the ball over in nine games as well for 14 on the season. They have caused five turnovers the last two games and only lost one.
Michigan has a -2 turnover margin in losses this season, with a +9 in games they have won. They have caused turnovers in 11 of the 12 games they have played, while only turning over the ball in seven games.
The biggest discrepancy on the season is in fumble recoveries, with Florida recovering 12 on the season to Michigan’s six.
While there is a bit, okay, a lot of luck when it comes to turnovers. Florida will have one distinct advantage with Gators defensive end Jachai Polite having caused five fumbles on the season (out of a total 10 caused), while Michigan has only forced three fumbles combined (the other three fumble recoveries were not a result of a fumble caused).
Both the Wolverines and the Gators have only won one game this season when they didn’t win the turnover battle, so whoever wins the turnover battle will likely have a higher chance at victory.
Michigan Rushing Attack vs. Florida Run Defense
Michigan’s starting running back and statistical season leader, Karan Higdon, has chosen to sit out this game, which will put the onus on running backs Chris Evans and Tru Wilson to pick up the slack. With Higdon, Michigan’s rushing attacked ranked 23rd in the country in yards per game (257.2) and 28th in the country in yards per attempt (5.0). Higdon was able to accumulate 1,178 of those yards and had himself a 5.26 yards per carry average.
While Chris Evans and Tru Wilson, averaging 5.45 yards per carry and 6.02 yards per carry respectively, have strong numbers – they are limited in action with only 74 and 59 carries on the season. Evans accumulated 246 of his 403 yards on the season against Western Michigan, Southern Methodist, and Rutgers, which included three of his four touchdowns. Tru Wilson compiled 165 of his 355 yards on the season against the same opponents and his only touchdown came against SMU.
The Gators will have all 12 defensive starters that allowed 4.2 yards per game, but also gave up 150+ yards on the ground seven times this season.
How will the loss of Higdon fair for a Michigan team that has counted so much on him? And can the Gators capitalize on the loss of one of the better running backs they would have faced on the season?
Florida Passing Attack vs. Michigan Pass Rush and Pass Defense
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks has had his best eight quarters of the season over the last three games (2nd half of South Carolina, 2nd half of Idaho, and FSU game). He has a 68% completion rate and has thrown for 690 yards over the last three games for seven touchdowns and zero turnovers. Franks also has been sacked just 1% of the time on passing downs, which ranks first in the FBS, and just 3.5% overall.
Michigan, however, boasts some gaudy numbers themselves on defense. They are the number team in the country in causing sacks on passing downs (14.7% of the time) and cause sacks on 10.5% of all defensive plays, ranking fourth in the country. They rank 1st in the country in pass defense, allowing 145.9 yards per game and fifth in the country in average quarterback rating.
Michigan will, however, be without their top defensive lineman, Rashan Gary, who was fourth on the team in sacks and first on the team in quarterback hurries, as well as, linebacker Devin Bush who led the team in tackles, is second on the team in sacks, and second on the team in pass break-ups.
Moreover, Michigan did give up 396 yards to Ohio State in the last game of the season and have allowed 295.5 yards per game over the last two games, compared to just 116 yards per game in the previous ten games, allowing their first and third most yards in the air to Ohio State and Indiana.
All the while, the Gators are coming off their two of their three highest passing games on the season against Idaho (399) and Florida State (254).
Will Michigan be able to replace their top-two defenders and can Florida keep their momentum going?
We will find out on Saturday at noon.