Unless Michigan’s offensive line has improved significantly over the past month, it’s going to be difficult to get a consistent running game against Florida State’s defensive front. As Josh detailed in yesterdays The Numbers Game, FSU is susceptible to the big play, so it’s likely that Michigan will move the ball in fits and spurts rather than with much consistency. And it’s also likely that it will be mostly through the air against a Florida State pass defense that has allowed half of its opponents to throw for more than 200 yards. Walker will probably wreck a drive or two, but if Wilton Speight is healthy after a month off he can carve apart the Florida State secondary.
Defensively, Michigan will have to stop — or at least slow down — Cook. We shouldn’t be too worried about Francois and the passing game beating Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense. But Cook will present some issues in the passing game out of the backfield. Michigan’s defense has had a knack for giving up big plays to running backs out of the backfield this season and Cook is the best they’ve faced this season. Don Brown faced Cook last season when he was at Boston College and held him to just 54 yards on 15 carries and two catches for three yards. If he can draw up a game plan to come close to repeating that performance Michigan will win. If the Michigan defense can stuff Cook on first and second down consistently, letting the pass rush loose on the porous FSU offensive line, it will be a big day for the Wolverines.
Overall, I see a game dominated by the defensive lines both ways, preventing either team from rushing consistently. Both teams will hit some big plays, but Michigan has the edge in the passing game and also on special teams. Expect a close game throughout with Michigan pulling it out late in the game.
Michigan 31 – Florida State 23
Michigan routed Florida last season after a month of preparation, but Florida State is a tougher test in the Orange Bowl.
Michigan had an outside chance at the playoff, but now that it’s settling for a New Year’s Six bowl, how will it come out?
I think these are two of the best defenses in the country, with tons of NFL talent on both sides.
I think Michigan can at least limit Dalvin Cook and make enough plays in the secondary to pick up win No. 11 by a 27-21 score.
Michigan 27 – Florida State 21
After narrowly missing out on a spot in the College Football Playoff, Michigan’s consolation prize is a trip to Miami to face the Seminoles of Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Something tells me that the crowd will not be overly kind to the Wolverines, but we’ll see how well the fan base travels south.
As for the matchup, there looks to be a case of strength versus weakness in Michigan’s pass rush facing a porous FSU offensive line, while Seminole running back Dalvin Cook could cause fits with his explosiveness in the running game. Wilton Speight’s health is still in question after gutting out a so-so performance against Ohio State a month ago, and a potent Florida State defensive line could cause more issues there.
If there’s one intangible for all bowl games, however, it’s the desire to be playing, and I don’t think Jim Harbaugh stands for anything less than full effort. With a star-studded senior class (and the biggest star of them all in Jabrill Peppers) playing in its last game in the Maize and Blue, I like the Wolverines to pull it out in a defensive showcase.
Michigan 24 – Florida State 14
For me, Michigan is not in the playoff for one simple reason: they do not have a championship OL and if FSU wins that’ll be why. That lack of an elite OL could spell doom against the likes of DE DeMarcus Walker, who also lines up inside, and NT Derrick Nnadi. Mason Cole has struggled against the better NT’s Michigan has faced and Kyle Kalis has whiffed on far too many blocks to count (remember Walker lines up inside too). No team gets to the QB better than FSU (on a per game basis). However, oddly enough two of FSU’s three losses came to teams that aired it out on them. UNC put up 405 yards and Clemson 383. Clemson’s QB/WR combo is much better than Michigan’s, I’d give Michigan the WR edge over UNC, but not at QB. But what this does show is that if the OL can give the QB some time, FSU can be exploited through the air.
On the other side of the ball FSU brings in the best RB Michigan has faced all year, and one of the best in the country. His balance of speed, power, balance and vision is why he’s a surefire first-round pick. The key here is the edge, if Cook gets to the edge consistently I don’t like Michigan’s chances. He’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. BUT, if Michigan can keep Cook somewhat contained and limit his chances for breakaway plays (read: MUST TACKLE) then Michigan will be in good shape.
Even better for Michigan’s chances is the fact that FSU struggles mightily to protect their RS Freshman QB, Deondre Francois. He gets hit and goes down a lot, 2.83 sacks per game, one of the worst in the nation. This bodes well for Michigan since they’ve spent quite a good deal of time introducing themselves to opposing QB’s and they themselves have one of the best front fours in the country. FSU has given up 2+ sacks in nine of eleven games against Power 5 teams, and 3+ in six of those, including 4 to BC and 6 to Clemson. Michigan has had at least 2+ sacks in eleven of twelve games, 3+ sacks in nine of twelve and 4+ sacks in six of twelve. They should have no problem getting to Francois multiple times.
If the Michigan OL can protect long enough and Speight is hitting the deep ball like he did the first 9 games, this should be a win, but if the Iowa or OSU version of this offense shows up, Michigan will head home with a loss. If FSU can force Michigan into 3rd and longs and unleash Walker and Nnadi on Speight it will be a long day. While the FSU run defense isn’t as stout as their pass rush, I’m not a huge fan of Michigan’s run blocking (in their 2-losses they were held under 100 yards AND under 3 yards per carry) so I think this game will come down to Speight and the OL pass blocking versus the FSU pass rush and coverage. Derrick Nnadi has to be double teamed, but that can become problematic with DeMarcus Walker also there.
Overall I think both defenses are the better units for each team, and better than the opposing team’s offense. However, I think the advantage Michigan’s defense has over FSU’s offense is slightly bigger than FSU’s defense vs. Michigan’s offense. That said, stranger things have happened and we don’t know how healthy Wilton Speight is.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Michigan will get to Francois four or five times. Where I pause is Dalvin Cook. He has 47 runs of 10+ in 268 carries, better than one for every six carries. Way more than anyone else Michigan has faced and Michigan has had some issues tackling this year, though they did a fairly good job bottling up Barrett/Samuels. It all boils down to whether Michigan can contain Dalvin Cook, and not many have. He’s had eight games of at least 120+ all-purpose yards and six of at least 179+, only three times was he held to under 6 yards per touch. The silver lining for Michigan? Both times Dalvin Cook faced Don Brown (at BC) he was held under 90 total yards, and just 57 last year.
Don Brown should be able to whip up a scheme to keep Cook in check, relatively, and the DL should have its way with Deondre Francois. The defense will do its job, this game will hinge on whether Michigan’s offense, the OL specifically, can get enough push for run game and give Speight enough time to survey the field. The OSU game left a bad taste in my mouth but this team is resilient and looking to go out on a high note, that and I don’t think FSU’s defense is as good as OSU’s.
It’ll be a very close game until the 4th when Michigan pulls away.
Michigan 21 – Florida State 13
This is going to be a fun one to watch. I think this game boils down to 1 big matchup. The Michigan defensive front vs. FSU’s Dalvin Cook. This is most likely the best RB we’ve seen all year and can control the game if he gets going. I have confidence that he won’t as Michigan is healthy and itching to end the season on a high note. Michigan will control the clock and throw the ball often against a suspect FSU defense. Look for dominate performance along the lines with Michigan winning 28-20.
Michigan 28 – Florida State 20