People joked last season about Florida’s best offense being the Gators’ defense. One week into the 2017 season and it appears not much has changed for Jim McElwain’s squad.
As a result, Michigan parlayed a suffocating defensive effort and took advantage of numerous UF mistakes on Saturday afternoon to capture a 33-17 win at AT&T Stadium in one of the bigger non-conference clashes of the year.
While the scoreline seemed to indicate a somewhat close affair, it would have been a blowout for Jim Harbaugh and company had Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight not gifted Florida 14 points off back-to-back pick-sixes in the first half. The senior signal-caller didn’t exactly get much sharper as the game went on (181 yards, one touchdown), but helped at least loosen up the defense to create some running lanes for tailbacks Ty Isaac (114 yards) and Chris Evans (78 yards) on the ground.
Their effort played a role in the team taking over the game to start the second half and never look back. Michigan marched right down to the end zone coming out of the locker room and then proceeded to recover a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. That was eventually turned into three points a few plays later and the Wolverines repeated the act again by recovering a Feleipe Franks fumble and cashing in with another field goal.
All told, a roughly three-minute span produced just three Florida offensive plays but 13 Michigan points. Along the way, Quinn Nordin became the first kicker in Wolverines history to ever hit two 50+ field goals in a game.
Franks (5/9, 75 yards) did start the game on solid ground as a first time starter but never seemed to get comfortable behind center. Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire was eventually brought on to run the offense but the Gators never could turn things around and he was the recipient of many of the Wolverines’ five sacks.
The lackluster effort on that side of the ball was sure to evoke memories of the past few seasons in Gainesville but things likely would have been at least a little different had 10 players — including the starting tailback and the team’s only game-breaking receiver — not been suspended. McElwain and his coaching staff will have a week to regroup with FCS Northern Colorado coming to the Swamp for their next game but will need answers quickly if they’re to remain atop the SEC East by the end of the year for a third straight time.
Michigan won’t have the same number of questions after their biggest test of the non-conference slate and may not play a team as good as the Gators until a late October trip to Penn State highlights Big Ten play. There was plenty of concern about Harbaugh’s team having to replace so many starters in 2017 but the Wolverines will head back to Ann Arbor without fretting quite as much as first thought, especially on defense.
Certainly not after clamping down and doing their own Gator chomp in Texas to kick off the season.