ATLANTA -- The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl started with the Michigan Wolverines running rampant on the Florida Gators, but the script quickly flipped.
UM quarterback Shea Patterson broke a 21-yard read option on the game’s first offensive play. Running back Christian Turner followed it and sprinted for a 46-yard touchdown, but he was marked out of bounds at the UF 38 after official review, 1 yard short of the first-down marker. Florida stuffed the Wolverine run on the next two plays, and it’s rush defense was stellar from that point forward.
The Florida defense stepped up massively on Saturday in its 41-15 victory at the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. UM entered the contest averaging 214.33 rushing yards per game, but the Gators stonewalled the run to only 77 yards.
“Unfortunately, how it shapes up, we’re done,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “I don’t know a lot of teams that would be lining up to play us right now.”
Patterson led the way offensively for Michigan (22-for-36 passing, 236 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions), but aside from his opening rush, UM couldn’t get it’s run game going with running backs Chris Evans and Turner. The Wolverines averaged only 2.6 yards per carry, and neither Evans or Turner broke a handoff more than 8 yards. They combined for only 52 yards on 14 carries.
Michigan’s lone touchdown drive came in the first quarter and involved a 41-yard throw-and-catch to wide receiver Nico Collins and 9-yard fade route to Donovan Peoples-Jones that instituted a 7-3 advantage.
But Florida’s defense forced the offense off the field quickly on the next two drives, including one that ended in a UM field goal after it began on the UF 30 following a blocked punt.
The Michigan attack gave the Gators trouble at the end of the half with it’s two-minute offense, but a missed field-goal attempt allowed Florida to take a 13-10 advantage to the locker room.
CJ Henderson disrupted a critical Evans rush toward the end of the half for a loss of one. He finished with 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, and he led the team with eight tackles along with safety Jeawon Taylor.
The UF defense started the second half right where it left off in the first. It forced the game’s first turnover when Michigan opened the third quarter with the football.
Patterson threw a deep ball for Collins, but Chauncey Gardner-Johnson snatched it at his own goal line and returned it to the UM 44. The interception led to a touchdown catch by Lamical Perine on the ensuing offensive drive, and the Gators increased their lead to 20-10.
“They were getting lucky stuff like quick passes, they were scared,” defensive end Jachai Polite said. “That’s how I feel, they were scared of us.”
When the Wolverines got the ball back, they went three-and-out for the second time. UF linebacker Amari Burney picked up his first-career sack on third down. Then, running back Jordan Scarlett rumbled in for six on the next possession to give Florida a three-score lead.
After Florida increased its lead to 34-15, Gardner-Johnson iced the contest with a pick-six on a tip-ball. He weaved through Michigan’s pursuing offensive players and crossed the goal line in his final game as a Gator. He finished with a school-record 83 interception yards.
“While we was in practice, we was telling these boys, you gotta think about it, you can practice here and know that the Playoffs are gonna be here next year or play like you’re in the Playoffs,” Gardner-Johnson said. “And that’s all we did, play like it, practice like it, and prepare like it, and you see the results.”
Players headed to the NFL
Gardner-Johnson already announced his departure to the League, but Polite and junior linebacker Vosean Joseph both said they were unsure about leaving the program to turn pro.
“My heart’s here though, that’s the biggest thing, this is where my heart is at,” Joseph said. “Thinking about leaving them, that just blows my mind.”
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr or contact him at [email protected].