Michigan rewind: Wolverines answer Florida challenge with stifling defense, resilient QB

There were so many questions about Michigan entering the season. None of those questions involved talent level but they certainly included how a lack of experience would affect that talent.

The No. 11-ranked Wolverines began answering in the positive Saturday with a 33-17 win against No. 17 Florida at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, that was much more dominating than the final score would indicate. Michigan outgained the Gators 433-192, including 215-11 running the ball, and produced 19 first downs to just 9 for Florida. If not for a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns, this game’s outcome would have been decided before halftime.

Because it wasn’t, Michigan was able to answer a few more questions to the affirmative.

Let’s take a look back at the game, go through the ups and downs, and check out some of those questions and answers with a Michigan rewind. Then we can start turning attention to the home season opener next Saturday against Cincinnati.

Play of the game

Wilton Speight completed a 28-yard pass down the middle of the field to wide receiver Grant Perry in the third quarter. The completion set up Karan Higdon’s 3-yard touchdown run two plays later that gave Michigan a 20-17 lead.

Speight’s throw was into a tight window, and Perry made a running grab in stride between defenders. Coming on the heels of 2 interceptions returned for touchdowns in the first half, the second of which came when Speight badly overthrew Perry, made it an even more impressive play.

“I think certain people might have thought that I might have gone in a shell,” Speight said.

Player of the game

Linebacker Devin Bush Jr. nearly got ejected on the first play from scrimmage for targeting. Bush still got a 15-yard penalty for a hit out of bounds but survived the targeting call upon replay and went on to lead a stifling Michigan defense with 7 tackles, 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss.

If that first play did anything, it epitomized how Bush and the Wolverines were going to play the rest of the game.

Key moment probably unnoticed

Florida had the lead, 17-10, and the ball at the Michigan 29-yard line with a little more than 7 minutes left in the first half. Momentum was with the Gators following three straight Michigan possessions that produced back-to-back Pick 6s and a deflected punt setting them up in prime scoring position.

It was third-and-2 when Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks handed the ball off to running back Lamical Perine. Instead of converting the down and distance into a first down, Perine was stopped for a 1-yard loss by Bush and safety Tyree Kinnel. Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro was wide left on a 47-yard field goal attempt the next play.

Michigan, behind backup quarterback John O’Korn, scored a field goal on its ensuing possession to cut the deficit to 17-13. That 6-point swing helped settle down the Wolverines and set the stage for a decisive third quarter.

Things we learned

Lavert Hill really did hear his coach

Secondary coach Mike Zordich said during preseason camp he was waiting for a few players to step up. Hill did just that.

Actually, the corners had a basic three-man rotation with Hill, David Long and Brandon Watson doing most of the work against a Florida receiver group that didn’t have top player Antonio Callaway because of suspension. Is this a case of matching up personnel against a depleted opponent? Or do defensive coordinator Don Brown and his assistants need more proof that others are ready to get on the field?

Either way, Hill was credited with 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 2 pass breakups. He seemed more involved than those stats indicate. He got beat for a 34-yard reception on the second play from scrimmage but didn’t let that one negative affect him.

Wide receivers have mixed day

Freshman Tarik Black started along with sophomore Kekoa Crawford, but Perry, Eddie McDoom, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Maurice Ways also played. Black and Crawford each had drops, with Crawford’s being turned into a touchdown for Florida. Black scored Michigan’s first touchdown of the season on a 46-yard pass from Speight off play-action. Right call against the right defense as Florida’s safeties miscommunicated on deep zone coverage.

Perry led Michigan receivers with 4 catches for 46 yards but he let his enthusiasm after his first catch get the better of him. He made a tough catch in traffic for a 9-yard gain on third-and-7 in the second quarter, and then spun the ball emphatically on the turf after the play. It cost the Wolverines 15 yards, changing the dynamic of the field position. Three plays later, Florida cornerback Duke Dawson picked of the pass that went off Crawford’s hands and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown.

The wide receivers did well run blocking. Ty Isaac and Chris Evans each got outside for multiple long runs. Running backs get outside because wide receivers are blocking their defenders.

Tight ends still critical in this offense

Yes, Jake Butt is no longer around but this game showed the tight end position is in good hands. It’s in five sets of good hands, to be exact. Tyrone Wheatley Jr. started but Sean McKeon, Nick Eubanks, Ian Bunting and Zach Gentry played significant snaps. Most of their contributions came in the run game and pass blocking but Speight did connect on 5 second-half passes for 86 yards to McKeon and Eubanks, including a 48-yard play to Eubanks.

Nolan Ulizio wins right tackle job

Redshirt sophomore Nolan Ulizio started and played the entire game at right tackle. He had a some negative plays against Florida’s talented defensive line but he won more battles than he lost. The offensive line overall had a good game against a tough opponent. Ulizio started next to left guard Michael Onwenu, who rotated at times with Jon Runyan Jr. Patrick Kugler was at center, while the left side was made up of guard Ben Bredeson and tackle Mason Cole. Those six played the majority of the game.

Wilton Speight’s accuracy needs consistency

Speight was high on some throws, and finished 11 for 25 for 181 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. A couple of passes were dropped. Speight wisely threw a couple of balls away when no one was open and he was in danger of taking a sack. He did have some well-thrown balls, but missed giving his receivers a chance to make catches on at least three deep balls on corner or sideline routes. He brutally missed  a wide-open Crawford on a sideline route that could have been a 29-yard touchdown.

It’s the first game of the season with a new receiver group. Speight has too much toughness and does too many other things well to take him out of the starting role, but this is an area that needs improvement.

Defensive line lived up to its reputation

Florida converted just 2 of 13 third-down attempts. It’s not easy to convert when you’re facing third-and-long all game, which is the situation the Gators usually found themselves in because of the job Michigan’s defensive line did on first and second down. Florida had to pick up at least 8 yards on seven of its third-down attempts, and four times it needed 10 or more yards.

Don Brown mixed up between 3- and 4-man fronts with the starting front four of ends Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, and tackles Bryon Mone and Mo Hurst. Lawrence Marshall, Carlo Kemp, Aubrey Solomon all played backup roles.

Michigan was credited with nine different players making a total of 11 tackles for loss, with Hurst and Winovich the only linemen among those nine. If the linemen weren’t making stops themselves, they were disrupting blockers so that the linebackers and defensive backs could.

Quinn Nordin has a leg

Michigan football-Quinn Nordin
Michigan redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin made 4 of 6 field goals against Florida, including ones from 55 and 50 yards. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

No Michigan kicker has ever made more than 4 field goals of 50 yards or more in a career. Redshirt freshman Nordin made 2 in his first game, something no other kicker in program history has done. Nordin connected on field goals of 55 and 50 yards, as well as 25 and 30 yards to help Michigan salvage points out of drives that stalled in Florida territory. Maybe he got a little tired because after making his first four attempts, Nordin missed from 52 and 32 yards in the fourth quarter.

The post Michigan rewind: Wolverines answer Florida challenge with stifling defense, resilient QB appeared first on Land of 10.

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