Another Michigan-Florida game, this time in Peach Bowl
The Peach Bowl will match a couple teams very familiar with each other.
Michigan and Florida will square off for the third time in four seasons when they meet Dec. 29 in Atlanta. The Wolverines won the previous two meetings, along with bowl games against the Gators in 2003 and 2008.
For the eighth-ranked Wolverines (10-2, No. 7 CFP), the game is a consolation prize after their College Football Playoff hopes were crushed in a 62-39 loss at Ohio State last week.
A berth in a New Year’s Six game is a remarkable accomplishment for Dan Mullen and his 10th-ranked Gators (9-3, No. 10 CFP). Mullen’s first Florida team has won five more games than it did a year ago and finished second to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.
Jim McElwain, who was the Wolverines receivers coach this season, was the Gators head coach for the last two meetings. McElwain was announced as Central Michigan’s new coach on Sunday and won’t be around to help the Wolverines get ready to face his old team.
“I know guys we’ve competed against who are there,” Harbaugh said. “Looking forward to watching how they’ve developed, and mainly just looking forward to the preparation of the game.”
In the last Michigan-Florida game, the Wolverines defense allowed just 192 yards and three points in a 33-17 win in the 2017 opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Gators defense scored two touchdowns.
Harbaugh’s team also won 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl following the 2015 season.
This game will match two strong defensive teams. Michigan, despite giving up 567 yards to Ohio State, still ranks No. 1 in total defense, holding eight opponents under 300 yards and five to 10 points or fewer.
Florida’s Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga have combined for 16 1/2 sacks and 27 tackles for loss after combining for six sacks and 13 1/2 TFLs in 2017.
“I’m proud of our team of how they have embraced everything this year and finished strong and now they get the reward of playing in a high-profile bowl game for the opportunity to win 10 games,” Mullen said.
FRAGILE MENTAL STATE?
Harbaugh said he wasn’t concerned about the possibility of his team allowing the devastating loss to Ohio State to lead to an emotional letdown for the bowl.
“Our players have played a great season, the coaches have coached a great season,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve overcome every adversity. Nothing changes. Just means the work isn’t done.”
GOING FOR TEN
A win would give Florida a 10th win in a season for the 15th time and first since 2015. Mullen would become the 11th coach in SEC history to win 10 games in his first season, and he would join Auburn’s Gus Malzahn (2013) as the only other coach to do it after inheriting a team that won fewer than five games the year prior to his arrival.
The Gators’ best win was 27-19 over then-No. 5 LSU in Gainesville on Oct. 6, a week after they went on the road and beat then-No. 23 Mississippi State.
Michigan bounced back from a 24-17 season-opening loss at Notre Dame to win 10 straight, beating three straight ranked opponents in Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State.
GARY A NO-GO
Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary, who announced last week he would declare for the NFL draft, will not play in the bowl, Harbaugh said.
Gary was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2016, and he is projected to be an early draft pick. A shoulder problem limited him to nine games this season.
MCDANIELS TO COACH RECEIVERS
Offensive analyst Ben McDaniels will coach the receivers in place of McElwain. McDaniels was offensive coordinator at Rutgers in 2015 and was an analyst for the Chicago Bears for two years before joining the Wolverines staff.
Peach Bowl Matchup
Michigan (11-2, Big Ten, No. 7 CFP) vs. Florida (9-3, SEC, No. 10 CFP), Dec. 29
Michigan: RB Karan Higdon is Big Ten’s second-leading rusher with 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Florida: DL Jachai Polite has 16 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks, to rank third in the SEC in both categories.
Michigan: Despite giving up 567 yards to Ohio State, the Wolverines still rank No. 1 nationally in total defense. They held eight opponents under 300 yards and five to 10 points or fewer.
Florida: Dan Mullen’s first Gators team has won five more games than it did year ago and finished second to Georgia in the SEC East.
Michigan 33, Florida 17 (Sept. 2, 2017).
Michigan: First appearance in Peach Bowl, 47th bowl game (21-25)
Florida: Third appearance in Peach Bowl (0-2), 44th bowl game (22-21)