The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was supposed to be a bit of a defensive battle between No. 10 Florida (10-3) and No. 7 Michigan (10-3), but the Gators cued up some big offensive plays in crucial situations to break the game wide open in their favor. Florida’s 41-15 victory over Michigan in Atlanta gave new head coach Dan Mullen a 10-win season in Gainesville with a bright future on the horizon in the SEC moving forward.
The reality of the outcome probably sunk in on the Michigan sideline when Jim Harbaugh opted to punt the ball back to Florida from the Michigan 43-yard line with 7:20 to play in the game with Michigan trailing 34-13. The game had already gone off the rails for Michigan. Playing without some key players hurt Michigan’s chances, but the game was there for the taking entering the second half as Florida led just 13-10 at the time.
But the second half started on the wrong foot for the Wolverines. A Shea Patterson interception deep down the field by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was returned 53 yards to the Michigan 44-yard line, and six plays later the Gators were in the end zone with a Feleipe Franks touchdown pass to Lamical Perine. Michigan went back five yards on the ensuing possession, and Florida put together a 63-yard touchdown drive keyed by a 30-yard run by Jordan Scarlett to put the Gators on the doorstep.
After Michigan responded with a field goal to cut the deficit to 27-13, Florida responded when it looked like the Michigan defense picked up a big stop. On 3rd-and-20 from the Florida 47-yard line, Perine took off running right up the middle of the Michigan defense and dashed 53 yards for a crushing touchdown.
Michigan’s defense may have been short-handed, but one of the best defenses in the nation certainly ended the year on a disappointing note. After giving up 62 points to Ohio State in the regular season finale, the Wolverine defense gave up 34 points (Florida scored a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter to add to the final score).
For Mullen, this marks his first 10-win season as a head coach since winning 10 games with Mississippi State in 2014. This is just the second 10-win season for Mullen, who improved his bowl record to a career mark of 6-2. He has now coached three straight bowl wins between his time at Mississippi State and now at Florida (Mullen left the Bulldogs prior to their bowl game last season). Harbaugh has now lost three consecutive bowl games and is 1-3 in bowl games at Michigan, 2-4 overall in bowl games. The last head coach at Michigan to lose three straight bowl games was Lloyd Carr, who lost four straight, although three of those bowl games were in the Rose Bowl.
Momentum from a bowl result may be overblown, but it should be easy to feel good about Florida moving on to 2019 based off the result of the Peach Bowl. For Michigan, there are just as many concerns and questions about taking the next step as there were after their regular season loss at Ohio State. This result may not add much more that wasn’t already there to stew on in Ann Arbor.