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Florida’s defense stonewalls Michigan in Peach Bowl

December 29, 2018 Atlanta - Florida Gators defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (23) reacts in the first half during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, December 29, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
December 29, 2018 Atlanta - Florida Gators defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (23) reacts in the first half during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, December 29, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In its two recent meetings against Michigan, Florida’s defense didn’t put up much of a fight against the Wolverines’ Big-10 offense.

In games against Michigan in the 2015 and 2017 seasons, Florida allowed an average of 468 yards and 37 points.

During Saturday’s Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Gators changed that narrative and limited Michigan to 77 rushing yards, 249 receiving yards and one touchdown in a 41-15 win— the program’s first ever win over the Wolverines.

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson was 22-of-36 passing for 236 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Patterson rushed for only five yards on 10 carries and was sacked five times.

“In Year 1, to come here and to know where we were this time a year ago to where we are today, it's special to me,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “... So it's really special for me that these guys all bought in and believed in that, and we had to finish a 10-win season, finish as a top-10 team in the country, that's pretty special.”

Michigan averaged 36.8 points, 214.3 rushing yards and 212.9 passing yards entering Saturday’s bowl game.

Beyond the below-average stats Michigan recorded, Florida’s defense proved they had the mental edge by how they succeeded Saturday despite several stressful situations.

The first situation occurred on Michigan’s first drive when a 41-yard touchdown was called back after running back Christian Turner’s foot was ruled out of bounds on the Gators’ 38-yard line. After the video review, Michigan faced a third-and-1 play, but Florida stonewalled Michigan on third and fourth downs, keeping the game scoreless.

Michigan was 6-of-15 on third-down plays and 0-of-2 on fourth downs.

Florida brought the same defensive edge from the first half into the second half, when they limited Michigan to 137 total yards and eight points. On Michigan’s first drive of the second half, Patterson was intercepted by Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who returned the pick 53 yards to the Michigan 44-yard line. The Gators went on to score a touchdown six plays later on a 5-yard pass to running back Lamical Perine to extend their lead to 20-10 with 8:06 left in the third quarter.

“It's been a ride... It just shows you like the growth because you gonna take some bumps along the road,” Gardner-Johnson said of the Gators going from a 4-7 record last season to a New Year’s Six bowl. “Last year was the most painful for us, not just for me, because seeing my teammates down, it hurt me.

“Like I said, this year was nothing but joy, you know.”

Gardner-Johnson, chosen the Peach Bowl defensive MVP, returned an interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give the game its final score and finished the game with five total tackles and two interceptions.

Florida’s defense shows its first signs of sloppiness in the fourth quarter as defensive back Trey Dean drew the defense’s first penalty of the game on a pass-interference call near the goal line on Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins. The penalty put Michigan on Florida’s 16-yard line with an automatic first down and resulted in a 26-yard field goal that narrowed Florida’s lead 27-13.