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Posts Tagged ‘Will Grier’

Citrus Bowl preview: #14 Michigan vs #19 Florida

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Game Preview_Florida_banner

More than a month after a humbling loss to rival Ohio State, Michigan returns to the field looking to make a statement heading into a seven month football slumber. Jim Harbaugh can capture the 27th double-digit win season in program history with a victory over the Florida Gators in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on Friday afternoon.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Jim McElwain (1st season)
Coaching Record: 32-19 (10-3 at UF)
Offensive Coordinator: Doug Nussmeier (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Geoff Collins (1st season)
Last Season: 7-5 (4-4 SEC)
Last Meeting: UM 41 – UF 35 (2008)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 2-0
Record in Bowl Games: Michigan 2-0
Record in Citrus Bowl: Michigan 1-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Florida 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2008 (41-35)
Last Florida win: N/A
Current Streak: Michigan 2

Michigan and Florida have faced each other twice before, both in Florida-based bowl games. In the 2003 Outback Bowl Michigan topped Florida 38-30 to close out a 10-3 season. Five years later, Michigan topped the Tim Tebow-led Gators 41-35 in the 2008 Capital One Citrus Bowl to close out Lloyd Carr’s career with a 9-4 season. Win or lose this one, Michigan will finish with one of those two records.

Florida won the Southeastern Conference East division this season, losing only to LSU in-conference (35-28) and rival Florida State in the regular season finale (27-2). The Gators then faced Alabama in the SEC Championship game and lost 29-15, which means they ride a two game losing streak heading into this one.

Florida’s best win was a 38-10 throttling of Ole Miss on Oct. 3, but they also nearly lost to Florida Atlantic on Nov. 21, needing overtime to top the Owls, who finished the season just 3-9. Their only wins came over Charlotte, Florida International, and Old Dominion.

So which Florida team will show up in Orlando on New Year’s Day — the one that started 10-1 and was ranked as high as eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings or the one that needed overtime to beat FEI’s 99th-ranked team and scored just 17 points in its last two games? Let’s take a look at the Gators.

When Florida has the ball

Michigan fans will be familiar with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who held the same position at Michigan last season. His offense ranks 109th nationally and 11th in the SEC in total offense (338.7 yards per game), 98th and 11th in scoring (24.5 points per game), 113th and 13th in rushing (127.6 yards per game), 76th and 6th in passing (211.1 yards per game), and 61st in passing efficiency (130.58). FEI ranks Florida’s offense 60th nationally with an opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency of -.03. By comparison, Michigan’s OFEI is .36.

Quarterback Treon Harris opened the season as the starter after starting the final six games of 2014, but lost the job to redshirt freshman Will Grier, who went 5-0 and completed 65.8 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. But Grier was suspended for a year for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, so McElwain and Nussmeier were forced to turn back to Harris. The sophomore hasn’t performed as well as Grier, completing just 51.9 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and five picks. In fact, since taking over for Grier, Harris has completed just 49.2 percent for seven scores and five picks.

While the running game hasn’t been dynamic — better than just 14 teams nationally — it does have a decent running back in Kelvin Taylor. The junior form Belle Glades, Fla. has 248 carries for 985 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns so far this season, averaging 75.8 yards per game. By comparison, De’Veon Smith has 155 carries for 644 yards (4.2 ypc) and six scores. Harris is the team’s second leading rusher with 183 yards on 85 carries (2.2 ypc), but he has yet to find the end zone on the ground. The second leading running back, freshman Jordan Scarlett, was suspended for the Citrus Bowl for marijuana possession, which leaves Taylor and freshman Jordan Cronkite — 41 for 140 (3.4 ypc) — as the only two running backs with over 100 yards rushing on the season.

The passing game is better statistically, but Harris is not Grier in that category. Harris completed 17 of 32 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns against LSU, but managed to break 200 yards just once in his final six games, averaging just 165 yards per game during that span. Freshman Antonio Callaway is the leading receiver with 603 yards and four touchdowns on 30 receptions. Junior Demarcus Robinson leads the team with 47 receptions, but is less of a big play threat with a yards per catch nearly half of Callaway’s. Fifth-year senior tight end Jack McGee has 41 receptions for 381 yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore Brandon Powell has 28 for 364 and three scores. Sophomore tight end DeAndre Goolsby is the only other pass catcher with more than 100 yards (17 for 277 and one) but hasn’t caught more than one pass in a game since Oct. 10.

The offensive line suffered a hit last week when fifth-year senior right tackle Mason Halter was declared academically ineligible. He started all 13 games. Freshman Fred Johnson will likely fill in. The other tackle, Jordan Sharpe is one of the elder statesman along the line as just a sophomore, as freshmen Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan will be the starting guards. Sharpe started all but the Vanderbilt game this season, while Ivey has started seven at left guard and Jordan two at right guard. Ivey was the nation’s top offensive tackle and No. 2 overall player according to 247 Sports in the 2015 recruiting class. The center is redshirt sophomore and Canton, Mich. native Cameron Dillard.

When Michigan has the ball

Defense is the reason Florida has had such a good season. The Gators rank 6th nationally in total defense (295.4 yards per game), 9th in scoring defense (16.5 points per game), 17th in rush defense (120.6 yards per game), 10th in pass defense (174.8 yards per game), 11th in pass efficiency defense (106.61).

Only one team — LSU (35) — scored more than 30 points on Florida this season, while the Gators held five opponents — Kentucky (9), Ole Miss (10), Missouri (3), Georgia (3), and Vanderbilt (7) — to 10 or fewer points. By comparison, Michigan’s defense also held five opponents to 10 or fewer points, but three of those were shutouts.

Florida’s defensive line is led by senior rush end Jonathan Bullard, whose 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss are both team highs. The former No. 6 overall player in the 2012 class recently said that his intention to return to Gainesville for his senior season was the best decision of his life, and now he figures to be a first or second round NFL Draft selection. He was named first team All-SEC and second team All-American. The other end is redshirt junior Bryan Cox Jr, who has 3.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore Caleb Brantley and junior Joey Ivie form the middle of the line. The duo has combined for 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. True freshman Cece Jefferson has also impressed at defensive end, recording 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, earning freshman All-American honors, while redshirt junior rush end Alex McCalister is tied with Bullard for the team lead with 6.5 sacks. However, McCalister was dismissed from the team two weeks ago. Still, that’s a lot of production for a defensive line unit.

Senior middle linebacker Antonio Morrison leads the team with 97 tackles and ranks second with 12 tackles for loss. Junior weak side linebacker Jarrad Davis is the second leading tackler with 94, 11 of which have gone for loss. Redshirt junior Jerami Powell is the strong side linebacker missed a few games with a torn meniscus, but and has just 12 tackles on the season. Fifth-year senior Anthony Harrell and junior Daniel McMillan also factor into the linebacker rotation with a combined 37 tackles.

The secondary is Florida’s strength with two of the best players in the nation, junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor. Hargreaves joined Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis as a first team All-American, becoming Florida’s first consensus All-American since Joe Haden 2009. He’s regarded as a top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft after leading the team with four interceptions along with 31 tackles, four pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Tabor recorded an SEC-leading 14 pass breakups in addition to four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Junior free safety Keanu Neal is the team’s third leading tackler with 85, while redshirt junior strong safety Marcus Maye is fourth with 73 and also has two interceptions. Senior nickelback Brian Poole has 36 tackles.

The other third

Redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin has made just five of 14 field goal attempts this season with a long of 43 after making seven of 12 last season. He has missed his last five attempts. Redshirt sophomore punter Johnny Townsend leads the SEC with an average of 44.92 yards per punt. He has booted 26 of his 79 punts over 50 yards and downed 29 inside the 20.

Powell averages 21.55 yards per kick return, which ranks 13th in the SEC, while Callaway ranks third in the SEC with a 14.5-yard punt return average.


A matchup of two of the top defenses in college football calls for a low scoring affair and I think that will hold true. Michigan will have trouble running the ball, which isn’t a surprise after the last few games, but will need to find success through the air against Hargreaves and Tabor. That’s not an easy task, but Michigan’s passing game grew leaps and bounds as the season went on. If Jabrill Peppers is healthy enough to play, expect him to play a similar role to what he did against Ohio State, giving the offense another dynamic playmaker.

Defensively, Michigan will need to slow down Taylor on the ground, but shouldn’t be too worried about Harris beating them through the air. Ohio State’s offense this is not. Nor is it Indiana’s, and those are really the only two offenses that gave Michigan’s defense fits this season.

Michigan has the advantage on special teams, especially if it becomes a game of field goals, so I give Michigan the slight edge to pull this one out and carry momentum into the offseason.

Michigan 23 – Florida 17

Michigan to face Florida in Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

Michigan vs Florida header

The Citrus Bowl held the highest non-New Years Six Big Ten bowl selection and chose Michigan over Northwestern on Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines will face SEC East champion Florida, who fell to Alabama in Saturday’s SEC Championship game, on New Year’s Day. Let’s take a look at the two teams.

Meet the teams

After winning nine games in their first season under Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan Wolverines will play against the Florida Gators in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, officials announced Sunday afternoon.

Michigan finished the regular season with a trio of excellent victories and a near-flawless road resume. The gem on its resume came in early October, when Michigan smashed the now 10-2 Northwestern Wildcats, 38-0. That victory gave the Wolverines a third consecutive shutout, a streak kicked off by a 31-0 win over BYU, which finished the season 9-3. The Cougars were five total points away from being 11-1, so that victory remains one of the most impressive of the nonconference season for power five teams.

Treon Harris

Unfortunately, Michigan’s season was hampered by a pick six against Utah in the opener, a blocked punt in the final seconds against Michigan State and a blowout loss last Saturday against Ohio State. All three of those losses came to ranked teams, but if Michigan could’ve won two of those games, it would be lobbying for a College Football Playoff berth.

Most impressively, Michigan exorcized its road-game demons and went 4-0 in Big Ten games away from the Big House. The Wolverines completely outclass a Penn State team that was previously unbeaten in Happy Valley and picked up road wins over pesky Minnesota and Indiana squads. Even the win at Maryland turned heads as the Terps failed to score on Michigan’s defense and gained only 105 total yards.

It was an unexpected comeback season for the Wolverines, rivaled only by a similar campaign for the Gators.

Florida’s season started off on the same path as Michigan’s. First-year Gators Head Coach Jim McElwain brought his group storming out of the gates, winning six straight games and jumping into the top 10 with a 38-10 win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss.

But Florida’s season was defined off the field, where starting quarterback Will Grier remained after being suspended for testing positive for PEDs. The freshman completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to a 6-0 start, but his season ended on Oct. 12 when the NCAA announced his suspension.

Treon Harris took the reins and immediately saw the Gators’ perfect record slip away. Florida lost a shootout to LSU in the Bayou and struggled to season’s end. After dismantling rival Georgia to bounce back from their first loss, the Gators nearly fell to Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic.

Vanderbilt, a team that surrendered 53 points to Tennessee in its final game and finished the year 4-8, held Florida to just nine points and fell about 20 yards short of attempting a game-winning field goal in the waning seconds.

Similarly, South Carolina trailed Florida by just three points with under five minutes to play. How good is South Carolina? The week after losing to Florida, the Gamecocks lost at home to The Citadel.

But the most alarming win for McElwain’s team came over 3-9 Florida Atlantic University in overtime. The Owls went into the Swamp and came within one incomplete pass of beating Florida in the upset of the season. Instead, Florida survived for a third straight week.

That streak came to a screeching halt in Rivalry Week. Florida State marched into the Swamp and crushed the Gators, 27-2. For Florida, it was only the second loss of the season, but verified the obvious faults that were exposed against the teams mentioned above.

Florida fought hard against Alabama on Saturday, but couldn’t come away with an SEC Championship, instead losing 29-15.

Scouting report

Since Grier’s suspension, Harris has held back a formerly potent Florida offense. He completed 51.9 percent of his passes in six games, throwing nine touchdowns and five picks. He does pose a threat in the running game, rushing for 332 yards and three touchdowns.

Kelvin Taylor took over as the top scorer when Grier got suspended, finishing the season with 985 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged only four yards per carry, but 200-pound junior can really wear down a defense.

The heart of this team is the defense, which ranks eighth in the country in terms of points allowed. Opponents average only 16.5 points per game against the stout Gators D, which is led by a stout defensive line. It stops the pass and rush equally and picked up 40 sacks this year (fourth-most in the nation).

Florida’s downfall is its horrendous kicking game, which makes even extra points an adventure. Austin Harden made only five of 14 field goal attempts this season, including four of 10 from closer than 40 yards. McElwain is hesitant to even attempt a kick longer than 40 yards, which further cripples a stagnant offense. Harden has missed five straight kicks heading into the Citrus Bowl, so his confidence is also a major issue.

Way too early prediction

This clearly sets up as a low-scoring defensive battle in Orlando. Assuming Jake Rudock is a full-go by Jan. 1, Michigan clearly comes into the game with the more dangerous offense. Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and Jake Butt might be the best trio of pass catchers the Gators see all year, but the Wolverines will continue to struggle offensively if they can’t rush the ball.

On defense, I’ll give the edge to Florida. Indiana and Ohio State exposed Michigan’s interior defensive line in the running game, and if Harris and Taylor put up even half of the numbers J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott did in The Game, Florida will gain a major edge.

We’ll see what happens over the next three weeks, but this looks like a fairly even battle. With Rudock healthy, I give the early slight edge to Michigan over the Grier-less Gators. And even though McElwain did a phenomenal job in his first season at Florida, it’s hard to pick against Harbaugh with a month to prepare.