Lamical Perine

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Dominant second half powers No. 10 Florida past No. 7 Michigan in Peach Bowl

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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.

CFT Previews: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

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WHO: No. 7 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 10 Florida (9-3)
WHAT: The 51st Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
WHEN: 12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
THE SKINNY: The last time we saw the Michigan Wolverines, they were getting stomped by Ohio State in the regular season finale. The Wolverines were not as bad as they appeared in that game, but will they be able to regroup and finish the season on a winning note after once again coming up just short of their goal of playing for and winning the Big Ten title with a shot at reaching the College Football Playoff? More importantly, can Michigan rely on its depth to do so?

Michigan will be without four starters for the bowl game, including key defensive players like Rashan Gary and Devin Bush and leading running back Karan Higdon. Florida should be in a better position with their roster for the game. The Gators will likely hope that running back Lamical Perine can get some room to work against a Michigan defense missing some key players. The Wolverines will hope to see Shea Patterson provide some stability on offense as he has become more and more comfortable running the offense as the season progressed until that massive pothole in Columbus.

Of course, there should be plenty of Jim Harbaugh reaction shots, and Dan Mullen would love nothing more than to cause a few moments of anxiety for his coaching counterpart. Mullen still has some work to do at Florida before the Gators are a legitimate SEC contender, but ending the year with 10 wins would certainly be a nice way to cap this season and move forward in preparing for 2019. Mullen is 5-2 all-time in bowl games with Mississippi State. Harbaugh is 2-3 with losses in each of the past two seasons.

Michigan has won all four all-time meetings with Florida dating back to 2003 and including wins in each of the past two seasons.

THE LINE: Michigan -5.5
THE PREDICTION: Michigan 24, Florida 20

No. 23 Florida clinches SEC East with goal line stand at No. 16 LSU

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The wait appeared to be worth it for No. 23 Florida (8-2, 6-2 SEC) as the Gators clinched the SEC East with a 13-10 victory on the road against No. 16 LSU (6-4, 4-3 SEC). The game, originally scheduled to be played in Gainesville earlier this year but was rescheduled due to a hurricane, was quite the physical one that saw the Gators fund an edge on the ground in the fourth quarter. A 26-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro with 4:37 to play gave the Gators a lead and the special teams unit recovered a fumble by LSU on the ensuing kickoff to run some more clock. But it was a goal-line stand on the final play of the game that would put the game in the win column for the Gators.

Down 16-10, LSU had the football with a first-and-goal at the seven-yard line and got two plays from the one-yard line to punch it in for a game-tying touchdown and potential game-winning PAT, but the Gators thwarted the Tigers when Derrius Guice lept over the pile and was stopped short of the goal line on the final play of the game.

Jordan Scarlett rushed for 108 yards and freshman Lamical Perine showed he can carry a pile on a key late drive. The play of the game, however, came shortly after LSU botched a field goal try and had a desperation pass by holder Josh Growden fall incomplete to allow Florida to take over from their two-yard line. Austin Appleby unloaded for a deep ball down the right sideline to Tyrie Cleveland, who broke a tackle and raced his way the remaining distance of the field for a 98-yard game-changing play to finish off a 10-point swing. The 98-yard scoring play more than doubled Florida’s offensive output at that point in the third quarter (68 total offensive yards before the play).

LSU running back Leonard Fournette was not scheduled to play today but reportedly convinced Ed Orgeron to allow him to play after a pregame dustup lit a fire under the banged-up Fournette. Fournette carried the football 12 times for 40 yards.

With the win, Florida clinches its second-straight SEC East Division title, which means the Gators are heading to Atlanta for a repeat of last year’s SEC Championship Game against SEC West champion Alabama. Alabama clinched the West last week with a win and an Auburn loss. It will be the first repeat SEC Championship Game matchup since Alabama and Florida clashed in the 2008 and 2009 conference championship games, although both of those games were between the top two teams in the country those seasons. Alabama may be the top team this year, but Florida will likely be outside the top 10. The SEC East hasn’t had a representative in the top 10 for the title game since No. 5 Missouri in 2013. Alabama and Florida have also met in the SEC Championship Game eight times prior to this season. Each team has won four meetings.

Before the SEC Championship Game, Florida will play rival Florida State next week in Tallahassee. LSU will close out its regular season on the road against Texas A&M.