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Orange Bowl preview: #6 Michigan vs #11 Florida State

Friday, December 30th, 2016

(Dustin Johnson, Maize ‘n Brew)

Ten years ago Michigan entered the Ohio State game at the end of the regular season needing just a win to clinch a spot in the BCS Championship game. Ohio State won a shootout in Columbus, securing their own spot, but many felt the Wolverines deserved a chance at a rematch. However, Florida head coach Urban Meyer successfully lobbied for the Gators, sending Michigan to the Rose Bowl.

Quick Facts
Hard Rock Stadium – 8p.m. ET – ESPN
Florida State Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (7th season)
Coaching Record: 77-17 (all at FSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Randy Sanders (4th season)
Lawrence Dawsey (10th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Charles Kelly (4th season)
Last Season: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)
Last Meeting: FSU 51 – UM 31 (1991)
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Record in Bowls: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs FSU First meeting
Last Michigan win: 1986 (20-18)
Last Florida State win: 1991 (51-31)
Current Streak: Florida State 1
Florida State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
#11 Ole Miss W 45-34
Charleston Southern W 52-8
at #10 Louisville L 20-63
at USF W 55-35
North Carolina L 35-37
at #10 Miami W 20-19
Wake Forest W 17-6
#3 Clemson L 34-37
at N.C. State W 24-20
Boston College W 45-7
at Syracuse W 45-14
#13 Florida W 31-13

On New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Michigan played like a dejected team that would have rather been in Glendale and was embarrassed by USC, 32-18.

Tonight, Michigan faces a similar scenario, having been left out of a spot in the College Football Playoff. Rather than a semifinal in Glendale or Atlanta, the Wolverines face Florida State in the Orange Bowl in Miami. Like that 2006 postseason, this team has a wealth of seniors playing in their last game, but rather than a end-of-career Lloyd Carr at the helm, Michigan has an enthusiasm-unknown-to-mankind Jim Harbaugh keeping them focused.

Last year, after suffering a humbling home loss to Ohio State in the regular season finale, Michigan responded by throttling a Florida squad, 41-7, that many thought was the better team. This week, all the talk from the Michigan camp has focused on this being a business trip.

“As long as coach Harbaugh is here, any bowl game we ever play in will be a 100 percent business trip,” said senior tight end Jake Butt. “You won’t see a lot of messing around. I can guarantee you that. It’ll be that way again this year.”

Senior defensive end Chris Wormley echoed that sentiment.

“It worked last year,” defensive end Chris Wormley said. “We beat a team by 34 points, and I’m guessing they went out and got to enjoy Orlando a little more than we did. But we got the win, and that’s what we’re here to do.

“I don’t think I’d be wrong to say that I’d want to be at the beach. But at the end of the day, winning the bowl game is what we’re here to do.

“We didn’t come here to go to the beach. We didn’t come here to go bowling, or to sing karaoke. I don’t have a good voice anyway, so that wouldn’t be entertaining.”

In Thursday’s press conference, ESPN’s Janine Edwards tried to bait Harbaugh into a soundbite with a ridiculous question about players wanting to see bikinis, but he wasn’t biting.

“I don’t have any thoughts on that,” he responded to the first question.

“I don’t know about that. I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded to the followup.

And it awkwardly continued for three more followups.

It’s clear that Harbaugh is concerned with removing distractions and focusing singularly on the task at hand: beating Florida State to send the seniors off with a win and springboard the younger players into 2017.

Florida State, meanwhile, is looking for a fifth straight 10-win season after finishing the regular season with a 31-13 thumping of rival Florida. The Seminoles had an interesting regular season, getting blown out by 43 points at Louisville, but nearly knocking off No. 3 Clemson. They also suffered a bad home loss to North Carolina and only beat Miami, Wake Forest, and N.C. State by a combined 16 points. But they finished the season hot with four straight wins to climb back from 23rd nationally to 11th.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Florida State has the ball

Florida State’s offense ranks 24th nationally in total offense (474.3 yards per game), 32nd in scoring (35.2 points per game), 38th in rushing (206.8 yards per game), and 29th in passing (267.6 yards per game). None of those numbers is outstanding, but advanced stats like the Seminoles much more, as S&P+ ranks the FSU offense sixth nationally.

The unquestioned dangerman offensively is junior running back Dalvin Cook, who ranks eighth nationally with 1,620 rushing yards. As we discussed on Monday, he’s accounted for 65 percent of the team’s rushing yards on 55 percent of the team’s carries. Remove quarterback from the equation and Cook accounts for 71 percent of rushing yards and 70 percent of carries. By comparison, Michigan’s leading rusher, De’Veon Smith, accounts for just 30 percent of the team’s rushing yards and 31 percent of the carries.

Cook eclipsed 100 yards rushing in eight of 12 games including eight of the last nine with a season-high of 267 yards against South Florida. He also topped 200 yards against Syracuse with 225 and ranked sixth nationally with 18 rushing touchdowns. He’s also a weapon out of the backfield as the team’s second-leading receiver in terms of yards with 30 receptions for 426 yards and one touchdown. His 35.5 receiving yards per game would rank fourth on Michigan’s team this season. He had two 100-yard receiving games out of the backfield, but his receiving production tailed off in the second half of the season when he averaged just 1.7 receptions for 13.5 yards per game in the last six games.

Behind Cook, sophomore running back Jacques Patrick has rushed for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry.

Quarterback Deondre Francois is the team’s third-leading rusher with 189 yards and four touchdowns, though that includes the yards lost on more than 30 sacks. He has been much more dangerous through the air with a 60.6 percent completion rate for 3,128 yards, 18 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. The redshirt freshman had his two worst performances in the losses to Louisville and Clemson, completing just 24-of-53 passes (45.2 percent) for 387 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks. His next worst performance came against Florida’s third-ranked pass defense, which held him to just 138 yards, a touchdown, and an interception on 57.7 passing. Of the teams he had big games against, none ranks higher than 35th in pass efficiency defense. Florida and Clemson have pass defenses similar to Michigan’s caliber, so that bodes well for the Wolverines.

Junior Travis Rudolph is the team’s leading receiver with 807 yards and seven touchdowns on 53 receptions, nearly identical to Amara Darboh’s output this season (826 yards, seven touchdowns, 52 receptions). Rudolph had a monster game against Wake Forest with 13 catches for 238 yards, but averaged fewer than four catches per game in the other 11 games. Senior Kermit Whitfield has 33 catches for 372 yards, but has found the end zone just once this season, while sophomore Auden Tate leads all regular receivers with 16.4 yards per catch. He has 409 yards and six touchdowns on just 25 receptions. Senior Jesus Wilson is the other receiver of note with 30 receptions for 390 yards and one score.

The offensive line has been lackluster this season, ranking 108th nationally with 34 sacks allowed, which is nearly double the 18 that Michigan has given up. Junior left tackle Roderick Johnson is the best of the bunch as a first-team All-ACC performer each of the past two seasons.

When Michigan has the ball

Florida State’s defense isn’t quite as good as the offense. Charles Kelly’s squad ranks 29th nationally in total defense (357.2 yards per game), 41st in scoring defense (24.4 points per game), 38th in rush defense (131.2 yards per game), and 68th in pass defense (225.9 yards per game). But like the offense, the Seminoles’ defense looks much better according to S&P+ which ranks them 18th nationally.

There’s no question who the star of the defense is. Senior strong side defensive end Demarcus Walker leads the nation with 15 sacks and was a second-team AP All-American. He also leads the team with 64 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. But he’s not the only stud on the line. Freshman weak side end Brian Burns has 9.5 sacks of his own, which is one more than Michigan’s leader, Taco Charlton. On the interior, junior nose guard Derrick Nandi has 5.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and 44 total tackles, which ranks fifth on the team.

Behind the line is a bunch of athleticism that hasn’t produced at a high level just yet. The linebackers are okay, lead by sophomore Buck linebacker Josh Sweat, who has 38 tackles, 10 for loss, 5.5 sacks, and a team-high six quarterback hurries. Will linebacker Matthew Thomas is the second-leading tackler with 62 and has 7.5 behind the line of scrimmage, while redshirt junior Mike linebacker Ro’Derrick Hoskins has 45 tackles, 3.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Sam linebacker Jacob Pugh has the second most sacks of the linebacking corps with 3.5.

The secondary is the weakest link. Sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden is a good corner with plenty of upside and makes plenty of plays. He lead the team with eight interceptions (which also leads the nation), 13 passes defended, and five pass breakups. He’ll be a touch matchup for Darboh and at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds he has the size to stack up. After McFadden, things go downhill. The other starting corner is senior Marquez White, who has 22 tackles, two interceptions, and three pass breakups. The safeties, sophomore A.J. Westbrook and junior Trey Marshall have a combined 86 tackles, three for loss, one sack, and seven pass breakups. Neither are more than average.

The other third

Freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo made 17-of-24 attempts this season with a long of 47, but was pulled in favor of fellow freshman Logan Tyler after missing two of three against Florida. Tyler hit 1-of-2 this season, though that one was from 53 yards out. Tyler is the team’s punter, averaging just 40.6 yards per punt. He has downed 11 of 46 punts inside the 20 with two touchbacks. He has only allowed 13 punt returns, but opponents have averaged 21.5 yards per return, so if Jabrill Peppers gets one that is returnable, it could be a game-changer.

Whitfield is the main kick returner, averaging 22.9 yards per return. Wilson is the main punt returner with an average of 17.2 yards and one return for touchdown.


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

First Look: #11 Florida State

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Michigan may be one of the four best teams in the country, but just missed out on a College Football Playoff spot after losing two of their final three games. On Friday, the Wolverines have a chance to make a statement that they deserved to be selected.

When Michigan narrowly lost by three to Ohio State in the 2006 “Game of the Century” and didn’t get awarded a rematch in the BCS National Championship game they mailed in their Rose Bowl matchup against USC, falling 32-18 in a largely uncompetitive game. It’s hard to see Jim Harbaugh letting that happen with a senior-laden squad this season.

Florida State comes in with a 9-3 record overall and 5-3 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Seminoles lost by 43 points to Louisville in Week 3 and then suffered a bad loss at home to North Carolina, but played Clemson tough — falling 37-34 — and won their final four games, most notably a 31-13 thumping of rival Florida.

Let’s take a look at how the teams compare through the regular season.

Florida State & Michigan statistical comparison
Florida State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 35.2 | 41.0 32 12
24.4 12.5 41 2
Rushing Yards 2,481 2,679 1,575 1,401
Rush Avg. Per Game 206.8 223.2 38 30
131.2 116.8 38 13
Avg. Per Rush 5.1 | 5.0
3.7 3.1
Passing Yards 3,211 2,593 2,711 1,631
Pass Avg. Per Game 267.6 216.1 29 81 225.9 135.9 68 1
Total Offense 5,692 5,272 4,286 3,032
Total Off Avg. Per Game 474.3 439.3 24 46 357.2 252.7 29 2
Kick Return Average 21.2 18.6 52 108 17.9 21.0 13 | 74
Punt Return Average 8.3 15.6 59 | 8 21.5 7.3 127 57
Avg. Time of Possession 33:31 32:57 12 16 26:29 | 27:03
3rd Down Conversion Pct 46% | 44% 23 | 34
34% | 21.0% 16 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 34-279| 18-119
108 27
47-292 44-274 1 2
Touchdowns Scored 53 63
37 | 18
Field Goals-Attempts 18-26 16-21
12-17 | 8-16
Red Zone Scores (52-54) 96%|(58-64) 91% 1 | 15
(32-41) 78%|(17-25) 68% 29 2
Red Zone Touchdowns (41-54) 76%|(43-64) 67% (25-41) 61%|(11-25 44%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 40.4 36.1 6 26 21.0 | 5.1 18 1

Statistically speaking, Florida State is probably the second best team Michigan has faced this season behind Ohio State. That’s debatable, as a case could be made for Wisconsin or Penn State (now, not at the time they played) but the Seminoles do rank ninth in S&P+, ahead of Penn State (12th) and Wisconsin (16th).

Offensively, Florida State ranks 24th nationally in total offense (474.3 yards per game), 32nd in scoring (35.2 points per game), 38th in rushing (206.8 yards per game), and 29th in passing (267.6 yards per game). Although the running game as a whole is good but not great — statistically, it’s about equal to Maryland’s (averaging about a yard more per game) — it does feature one of the nation’s top running backs in junior Dalvin Cook, who ranks eighth nationally with 1,620 rushing yards.

Cook has accounted for 65 percent of FSU’s rushing yards so far this season. By comparison, Michigan’s leading rusher, De’Veon Smith, has accounted for just 30 percent of the Wolverines’ yards on the ground. Cook’s percentage is roughly equal to that of Smith, Chris Evans, and Karan Higdon combined.

Florida State had just four games in which they rushed for at least 200 yards during the regular season (Michigan had six). The Seminoles had a high of 478 rushing yards against USF’s 92nd-ranked rush defense and had 334 against Syracuse’s 108th-ranked rush defense. But they did close the regular season with 249 yards on 6.2 yards per carry against Florida’s respectable 35th-ranked rush defense.

As a whole, the FSU passing game is much better with nine of 12 games over 200 yards passing, five games over 300 yards, and one over 400. By comparison, Michigan’s passing game had eight, two, and zero this season. The season high of 419 passing yards came in a season opening win over Ole Miss. They also put up 372 passing yards on a season-high 11.6 yards per attempt against North Carolina’s 14th-ranked pass defense. It was by far the most passing yards the Tarheels allowed all season, about one-third more than the next closest, James Madison’s 286. UNC held seven of 12 opponents below 200 yards passing. Against a pass defense comparable to Michigan’s (Florida), Florida State managed just 138 yards on 15-of-26 passing with one touchdown and one interception.

One major area in which Michigan can exploit is the Florida State offensive line, which ranks 108th nationally in sacks allowed. They’ve given up nearly twice as many sacks as Michigan’s offensive line has this season (34 compared to 18), an average of almost three per game. Michigan’s defense ranks second in the nation in sacks, so count on defensive coordinator Don Brown to dial up some pressure on quarterback Deondre Francois.

Defensively, like offensively, the advanced stats like Florida State more than the traditional stats do. The Seminoles rank 29th nationally in total defense (357.2 yards per game), 41st in scoring defense (24.4 points per game), 38th in rush defense (131.2 yards per game), and 68th in pass defense (225.9 yards per game). None of those rankings is indicative of a top-10 team, but FSU’s defense ranks a more respectable 18th according to S&P+. Four of Michigan’s opponents this season — Ohio State (3rd), Wisconsin (5th), Colorado (11th), Iowa (12th), and Penn State (16th) — rank higher but it still means FSU has a very good defense.

It’s lead by the defensive line and most notably senior defensive end Demarcus Walker, who leads the nation with 15 sacks and ranks 18th nationally with an average of 1.5 tackles for loss per game. Fellow end Brian Burns has 9.5 sacks of his own, which is one more than Michigan’s leader, Taco Charlton. As a team, FSU leads the nation with 47 sacks — three more than Michigan.

But when the Seminoles don’t make it to the quarterback, they struggle to stop the pass. Six of 12 opponents have topped 200 yards passing and four of those topped 300 yards. One — North Carolina — threw for 405 yards, their third-highest of the season. Clemson had its second-best passing game of the season and best in terms of yards per attempts (14.0) against the ‘Noles with 378 yards. Michigan’s defense allowed two 200-yard passing games to Colorado and Maryland and none higher than the Terrapins’ 289 yards.

The rush defense is slightly better, having held six of 12 opponents under 100 yards rushing. They did give up 314 rushing yards to Louisville and 290 to USF in back to back weeks early in the season, but in their last eight games, their opponents topped 100 yards just twice with a high of 165 yards. They allowed just 77.4 yards per game over that span.

But that should be said with a caveat. In the last eight games of the season, FSU faced a lot of bad rushing offenses. Clemson’s 67th-ranked rush offense was the best they faced and the eight opponents averaged the nation’s 96th-best rushing offense. Those two that rushed for a combined 604 yards on 6.9 yards per carry? They rank 11th and 5th in rushing offense. Michigan’s running game isn’t quite on that level, but the Wolverine’s 30th-ranked rushing offense is considerably better than any of the final eight teams that FSU’s defense shut down.

Overall, Florida State is a dangerous team that should absolutely not be taken lightly. Just because Michigan descended on the Sunshine State and whooped the Florida Gators in last year’s Capital One Bowl doesn’t mean they’ll do the same to the Gators’ rival on Friday. Florida State is a more complete game than Florida was a year ago and they’re filled with young talent that will make the Seminoles a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. Michigan has the edge in experience and is probably the better team, but FSU has the athletes to make Michigan pay if they don’t come to play.

Michigan to face Florida State in Orange Bowl

Sunday, December 4th, 2016


Michigan missed out on the College Football Playoff, but still earned a spot in one of the prestigious New Years Six bowl games and gets an intriguing matchup against another traditional power. The Wolverines will face 11th-ranked Florida State in the Capital One Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.

Meet the teams

At this time two years ago Michigan’s season was over and a coaching search was just beginning. The Wolverines would watch rival Ohio State run the table to a national championship, but not before luring Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL.dalvin-cook

In a short two years, Harbaugh has transformed the culture of the program the way his mentor, Bo Schembechler, did 45 years prior. Harbaugh proceeded to double Michigan’s win total in his first season and then match that again this fall, and on Dec. 30 he has a chance to improve upon that with an 11th win for just the 10th time in program history. In fact, it would be just the seventh time in program history that the Wolverines won at least 21 games in a two-year span.

Yet, the Orange Bowl feels like a letdown. Michigan had a legitimate argument for an inclusion in the College Football Playoff with two losses, both on the road and both on the last play of the game, by a combined four points, and as many top-10 wins as any team in the country. But when the CFP committee released its rankings on Sunday afternoon, one of those losses proved too much to overcome ACC champion Clemson and Pac-12 champion Washington, both of which had just one loss.

When Michigan got left out of the BCS championship game following the 2006 season they saw the Rose Bowl matchup with USC as a consolation prize and played like they didn’t want to be there. USC won 32-18. This time around, they’re taking the perceived snub as a chance to make a statement against another college football blueblood.

Florida State began the season ranked fourth nationally and quickly ascended to second after knocking off Ole Miss and Charleston Southern. Then, they ran into Louisville and the Cardinals kicked off a 3-3 stretch that saw FSU also lose to North Carolina and Clemson wrapped around wins over USF, Miami, and Wake Forest.

The Seminoles won four straight to close the season, topping N.C. State, Boston College, Syracuse, and Florida to climb back to the cusp of the top 10 entering bowl season.

Scouting report

As a team, Florida State’s offense ranks 24th nationally in total offense (345.1 yards per game), 32nd in scoring offense (35.3 points per game), 39th in rushing (206.8 yards per game), and 29th in passing (267.6 yards per game). The main weakness is the offensive line, which has allowed 34 sacks — the same number as Rutgers and more than only 16 teams nationally.

FSU is lead by junior running back Dalvin Cook, the nation’s seventh-leading rusher, who averages 135 yards per game. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in eight of the last nine games with two of those over 200.

Freshman quarterback Deondre Francois ranks 30th nationally with 260.7 passing yards per game and 36th nationally with a pass efficiency of 143.7 — one spot behind Wilton Speight.

Florida State’s defense ranks 29th nationally in total defense (357.2 yards per game), 43rd in scoring (24.4 points per game), 27th against the run (131.3 yards per game), and 65th against the pass (225.9 yards per game). Although those numbers aren’t great, the Seminoles are 16th in third-down defense (33.8 percent) and they lead the nation with 47 sacks — three more than Michigan.

Senior defensive end Demarcus Walker leads the nation with 15 sacks (14 solo) and ranks 18th with 17.5 tackles for loss. He’ll be a handful for Michigan’s offensive line.

Way too early prediction

Michigan opened as a 6.5 point favorite and should have a fully healthy offense with Wilton Speight getting a month to heal his left shoulder. That should allow the offense to function at full capacity — it’s clear that it wasn’t at Ohio State a week ago. Florida State’s pass defense has surrendered over 200 yards in half of their contests and over 300 yards four times. By comparison, Michigan’s defense has allowed over 200 yards passing twice with a high of 281 against Maryland. With a fully healthy Speight, I like Michigan’s chances of moving the ball.

Defensively, Michigan’s defense has done a good job this season of shutting down individual running backs. Cook may be the best they’ve faced this season, but they held Saquon Barkley to 59 yards on 15 carries, Corey Clement to 68 yards on 17 carries, and Mike Weber to 26 yards on 11 carries. L.J. Scott managed 139 yards, but that’s an outlier against 11 others. Francois isn’t a major threat to run the ball, so the Wolverines won’t have the same issues they faced against Ohio State. And Michigan boasts the nation’s best pass defense, allowing just 135.9 yards per game. With their pass rush and FSU’s porous offensive line, Francois won’t have much time to throw the ball.

Michigan has an edge on both sides of the ball and — like last year — it’s hard to pick against Harbaugh with a month to prepare. The Wolverines entered last year’s Citrus Bowl hoping to beat Florida and they demolished the Gators. I don’t expect as big a margin this time around, but there’s no reason not to expect a Michigan win.