ARLINGTON, Texas — This wasn’t a magical win for Michigan. It certainly wasn’t pretty. Instead, it was simply gutsy, a win by a team many disqualified simply because it was so young.
Michigan showed college football its identity in a 33-17 win against No. 17 Florida on Saturday at AT&T Stadium. This group of youngsters didn’t fold in front of adversity. Instead, these Wolverines blossomed in the face of it.
Florida intercepted Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight on back-to-back drives in the second quarter. The No. 11 Wolverines (1-0) didn’t head toward the exits.
The Gators, without 10 suspended players, rallied from seven points down to take a 17-10 lead. Michigan didn’t pack its bags or playbooks.
Instead, Michigan used its smarts. The Wolverines analyzed what worked for Florida and focused on nullifying it. Then, Michigan set a goal: to be productive, whether it meant stopping Florida’s run or producing its own offense. Michigan finished with 215 yards rushing and 218 yards passing, and held Florida to 192, including only 11 rushing.
Not bad for a bunch of kids.
“We were good,” defensive lineman Maurice Hurst said. “We knew [the defense] only gave up three points, so we felt comfortable in ourselves and we knew that they weren’t able to really do what they wanted to do on offense. They said they were going to try to run outside the whole game and we just kept shutting it down.”
With that poise, the Wolverines cemented the first of their building blocks into place for this season. Michigan’s comeback win showed college football that its No. 11 ranking in the AP Top 25 wasn’t a fluke. The Wolverines showed that losing 18 starters wasn’t going to be an excuse for anything good or anything bad.
“We’re young, but we’ve got heart,” sophomore tight end Nick Eubanks said. “And that’s the thing about it. A lot of people criticized us as being young, but I’m going to tell you, we’ve got heart. We’re going to keep playing the game.”
Was this a monumental win for the Wolverines?
“It was big,” Eubanks said. “The first win is always the best win. That was our goal for the first game, to win this opener.”
Tarik Black, a freshman who led all receivers with 83 yards and a touchdown, saw it as a foundation for this team.
“[The win] built our confidence,” Black said. “It allows us to see what we’re capable of in tight moments. This game was just a test for us.”
From common logic, Michigan’s youngsters weren’t supposed to respond the way they did. Michigan should have simply folded when the Wolverines found themselves down by seven points, a result of missteps.
Age, Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich explained, is simply a number. Or a state of mind.
“I think it was actually kind of an advantage, us being so young, because it gave us an opportunity to form a brand new identity, off the backs, off the shoulders of the people that have come before us,” Winovich said. “They paved the way.”
Some would liken this to on-the-job training for younger players such as Bush, Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones (a 5-star recruit who served as a punt returner), right tackle Nolan Ulizio and cornerback Lavert Hill.
Defensive lineman Mo Hurst, a senior, saw Saturday as a reflection of the professionalism of his teammates.
“I’ve never seen a group of young guys be so professional and so in tune to the game,” Hurst said. “That’s the thing. We’ve got a lot of young guys who are really in tune and we’ve got some really great plays. There were some young freshmen just making some unbelievable plays.
“There’s a lot of young guys that just stepped up and it’s just going to keep getting better.”
Winovich saw Saturday as another reflection of his team. Before he walked out of the interview room, Winovich made a final declaration about the Wolverines:
“We work harder than any team in the country,” the senior said.
Saturday in Texas it showed.
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