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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Gators offense overmatched by Wolverines, lose season opener

<p>UF running back Mark Thompson (24) gets tackled while running with the ball in Florida's 33-17 loss to Michigan on Saturday in AT&amp;T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.</p>

UF running back Mark Thompson (24) gets tackled while running with the ball in Florida's 33-17 loss to Michigan on Saturday in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Brandon Powell yanked his chin strap from his helmet, threw his hands up in despair and stormed off the field of AT&T Stadium.

The senior wide receiver had just received a brutal blow from Michigan defensive lineman Lawrence Marshall, sending him tumbling towards the sideline as he watched Marshall recover a fumble in the middle of the third quarter.

Powell’s frustration epitomized the kind of outing Florida’s scoring attack had against the Wolverines. One of disappointment and very little results.

The Gators struggled from start to finish against the Wolverines on Saturday, mustering only 192 yards of total offense as well as failing to reach the end zone in a 33-17 loss.

Florida (0-1) was dominated in particular at the line of scrimmage. Michigan’s defensive front held UF to less than one yard per carry on 27 rushing attempts and notched six sacks, outplaying and outmuscling the Gators offensive line.

“They physically took it to us, give them their due,” coach Jim McElwain said after the game. “They beat us every which way they could up front, and we never had an answer.”

The Gators only offensive points came on its opening drive of the contest. A 34-yard pass from quarterback Feleipe Franks to receiver Josh Hammond set up an eventual 46-yard field goal from kicker Eddy Pineiro.

Florida then received a boost from its defense in the second quarter.

A throw from Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight deflected off the fingers of receiver Kekoa Crawford and landed in the hands of UF cornerback Duke Dawson.

Dawson weaved and sprinted his way back up field, flying by the Wolverines on the way to a 48-yard pick-six, the third of his career.

On Speight’s very next pass attempt, he missed his target again, this time overthrowing receiver Grant Perry and hitting Gators cornerback CJ Henderson for his second straight interception.

Henderson – a freshman from Miami playing in his first career game – didn’t look back, returning the ball 41 yards for another defensive touchdown and giving Florida a 17-10 lead.

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“I’m really proud of the way the young guys stepped up,” defensive lineman Jordan Sherit said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys contributing to our defense and the way they were able to go out there and get points was great.”

After Henderson’s pick, however, the Gators were shut out for the rest of the game, failing to score another point.

Neither Franks nor Malik Zaire completed 60 percent of their passes, combining to throw 14-for-26, 181 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

Redshirt senior Mark Thompson led all running backs with 13 yards on five carries. Freshman Malik Davis registered eight yards on his lone touch of the game, and starter Lamical Perine ran for eight yards on seven attempts.

For Florida’s defense, the unit surrendered 433 yards including 215 on the ground.

Wolverines fifth-year senior Ty Isaac rushed for a game-high 114 yards on 11 attempts while sophomore Chris Evans added 78 yards on 22 carries.

Michigan’s passing game wasn’t quite as strong, with quarterback Wilton Speight hitting on 11-of-25 passes and tossing two picks against UF.

Big plays did allowed by the Gators secondary did keep the momentum in their opponent’s favor, however, with Speight and John O’Korn combining for four passes of at least 25 yards or more.

Saturday’s defeat ends a historic winning streak for the Gators in their season openers. Florida hadn’t lost its first game of the year since 1989 when it fell to Ole Miss 24-19.

You can follow Dylan Dixon on Twitter @dylanrdixon, and contact him at ddixon@alligator.org.

UF running back Mark Thompson (24) gets tackled while running with the ball in Florida's 33-17 loss to Michigan on Saturday in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

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