Michigan turns halftime deficit around with dominating third quarter in win over Florida

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jim Harbaugh and Pep Hamilton didn’t sugarcoat the situation for Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight.

“Your next move is crucial,” Speight recalled his head coach and passing-game coordinator telling him. “It can go two ways. And I made sure that it went in a positive direction.”

Speight and Michigan turned a 17-13 halftime deficit against Florida into a resounding 33-17 victory because they stopped making mistakes and giving an offensively-challenged Florida team life in a game it never should have been in. A 10-play, 75-yard drive capped by Karan Higdon’s 3-yard touchdown run to open the third quarter gave the Wolverines the lead. Aggressive play on special teams and defense, highlighted by a pair of forced fumbles and recoveries in the second half, cemented the season-opening victory.

It all started with Speight forgetting about two pick-6 throws in the second quarter that sent him to the bench in favor of John O’Korn for two series and gave Florida its halftime lead. A slightly high throw intended for Kekoa Crawford instead went off the sophomore’s hands and was returned 48 yards for a touchdown by Duke Dawson of the Gators. Speight threw a perfect strike to CJ Henderson on the next drive. Unfortunately for Speight, Henderson is a Florida defensive back who returned the interception 41 yards for another score.

“Missing that connection with Kekoa and then just sailing it over Grant [Perry’s] head, that’s tough to bounce back from,” Speight said. “Coach let me settle down for a couple series and just kind of watch from the sidelines and see the defense and stuff.”

He saw the “defense and stuff” much better after halftime.

“We got this,” sophomore tight end Nick Eubanks said of the reaction of the offense after the 2 interception returns. “It’s no big deal. There’s a whole lot of football to be played. We just kept our heads up and kept playing. We came in at the half with a plan, and executed very well. That’s how we got that momentum.”

None of the 9 passes Speight and O’Korn attempted in the first half targeted a tight end. Speight’s first 2 completions of the third quarter went to tight end Sean McKeon. Eubanks got a 13-yard reception later in the third quarter, and then hauled in a 48-yard catch in the fourth quarter.

Speight was far from perfect after halftime. He only completed 8 of 17 passes 123 yards, missing a couple deep sideline throws when he didn’t give his receivers an opportunity to catch the ball. He also didn’t turn the ball over, and Speight made some tight throws when he needed. Speight and Perry hooked up for a 28-yard reception to the Florida 10-yard line, setting up Higdon’s touchdown run.

“I think certain people might have thought that I might have gone in a shell,” Speight said. “Going into halftime and being able to come back out, I really completely blocked it out, did not remember it whatsoever.”

The completion to Perry came as a result of Speight watching, and not moping, on the sideline. He called it a “bread-and-butter” play, one that was run while O’Korn was in the game.

“I was like, wow, I could capitalize on that next time that’s called,” Speight said. “That’s what we did.”

Michigan football-Chase Winovich-Malik Zaire
Defensive end Chase Winovich (left) sacks Florida quarterback Malik Zaire, forcing a fumble that teammate Noah Furbush (59) would recover for a touchdown. (Kevin Goheen/Land of 10)

Florida’s offense produced 46 yards and 3 points on six plays on its first possession of the game. It managed just 146 yards the rest of the game, and 39 of those came on a final run-out-the-clock possession.

Michigan’s defense was already dominating when the second half started. The way the offense responded with the opening drive only upped the ante.

“It was extremely energizing,” said senior defensive end Chase Winovich, who helped produce the final points of the game with a sack/forced fumble on Florida backup quarterback Malik Zaire that linebacker Noah Furbush recovered in the end zone with 1 minute, 37 seconds left to play. “Anytime you can get things or momentum going in your favor, we just needed something. Some kind of spark. I feel we did a really good job of not giving them that spark in the second half. They didn’t have any points in the second half, and it’s tough to mount a comeback when your offense has (11) yards rushing.”

The post Michigan turns halftime deficit around with dominating third quarter in win over Florida appeared first on Land of 10.

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