Preview: 2016 Citrus Bowl

Submitted by Brian on December 31st, 2015 at 4:03 PM


WHAT Florida vs Michigan
WHERE Citrus Bowl 
Orlando, FL
WHEN 1 PM Eastern
January 1st, 201
THE LINE Michigan -4
TICKETS From $57
WEATHER mostly cloudy, 80-ish
slight chance of rain


I already used the "Good Ash, Bad Ash" clip for the Northwestern game this year but I mean yeah pretty much that again. Both teams have first-year coaches who spackled together an offense from the grim remains left by his predecessor. Both teams have fierce defenses. Both teams are entering the game after spending the last couple weeks twitching and repeating "not in the face" after not at all competitive games against rivals.

Florida's offense is slightly more dysfunctional after the weird mid-season PED suspension of their starting QB, but at no point has their defense been emasculated in the way Michigan's was against Ohio State. So… yeah. The books have installed Michigan a 4 point favorite despite this being a virtual road game, and that feels about right.

Run Offense vs Florida


Bullard brings the pain

Prepare for a rough ride. Anyone who's been on the internet over the past few weeks has run across a dubiously-sourced photo of Jabrill Peppers and the brace on his hand. It sounds like he will play, but the guess here is that he won't see time on offense with that injury. Also Derrick Green is not on the trip and has probably played his last snap as a Wolverine.

That leaves Smith and… uh… company I guess… against these guys:

All-American candidate DT Jonathan Bullard … boasts the top run-stopping grade in the nation at +36.5 while improving his pass rushing this year to the tune of six sacks, six hits, and 12 hurries on 253 rushes. His instincts and ability to read and defeat blocks have made him a force, and a very consistent one at that, as he’s yet to grade lower than +2.1 in any game this season. Complementing Bullard has been a deep rotation of defensive linemen, with six other players grading positively while playing at least 192 snaps, led by true sophomore DT Caleb Brantley and his team-high +10.6 pass rushing grade.

At the linebacker level, Antonio Morrison receives the hype, but it’s Jarrad Davis who has turned heads this season as his +11.6 mark leads the way for the Gators. He leads the team with 34 stops, including 12 in the passing game, good for 12th in the nation among linebackers.

That was posted before the FSU and Alabama games, and even those went poorly for the team as a whole the defense came out of that shiny. Bullard was named a PFF All-American. S&P+ has Florida the #5 rush defense in the nation.

Meanwhile Michigan is near-perfectly mediocre at 61st. While Florida will be missing a piece or two they've held up very well minus those guys down the stretch—it was only sheer repetition that saw Alabama crack 200 yards on the ground. It took Alabama 58 carries to get there; Florida gave up 4.0 YPC. Michigan fans are familiar with late fades from overworked defenses; even with that fade the Gators held up.

If there is a major weakness it's the strongside linebacker, who Florida State targeted on a number of successful Dalvin Cook runs. Ace detailed those earlier today in his FFFF.

It is very difficult to see Michigan getting much, if any production out of this unit. Michigan's offensive line plateaued at meh; Smith is the opposite of a home-run hitter; production against similarly-ranked defenses has been grim. Michigan has tried to minimize the importance of running backs for a bit now with Peppers and WR screens. Insofar as that is possible, expect a repeat. Florida does play their corners off a significant portion of the time, so various WR screens may be available.

One wild card to watch for: Ty Isaac. Reports from before the OSU game held that he was getting the bulk of the first team reps, and then he did not play at all in the game itself. Another month of preparation and the presumed absence of Peppers should see Isaac cash in on some of that practice hype for playing time. He's still likely to eat dirt given the context he'll be in, but keep an eye out.



Pass Offense vs Florida



While Jake Rudock's late surge makes this a plausible matchup for Michigan, this is another terrifying unit. Florida's secondary is what you get if you create several slightly degraded clones of Jourdan Lewis:

Rounding out the defense is the deep secondary, led by three cornerbacks with positive grades — Vernon Hargreaves III, Jalen Tabor, and Quincy Wilson — and a PFF Dream Teamer at strong safety in Marcus Maye (+19.5 overall, second among Power-5 safeties). The three cornerbacks have combined to allow 48 catches on 112 targets (42.8 percent) for 529 yards (4.7 yards per attempt). They’ve also combined to allow only two touchdowns while intercepting nine and getting their hands on 12 other passes.

That is a unit plenty deep enough to cover Michigan's top three targets, and then M doesn't have much of anything past those guys. Meanwhile Florida has 40 sacks. Yikes.

Michigan really, really does not want to get in long yardage situations, when the Florida defense goes from very good to lethal. They're 2nd in S&P+ on passing downs, allowing just 20% of plays to succeed and sacking opponents on an incredible 14% of snaps. They get jittery and can get hit by play action sometimes on standard downs, but when allowed to pin back their ears the opposition gets obliterated.

With the run game projecting to be of little use, it'll be important for Michigan to pick up screen yards when they can and for Rudock to have an efficient, accurate day. A couple months ago that would have been an impossible ask, but dude flipped a switch four games ago and it's at least plausible.

Florida will miss DL Alex McCalister, who co-led the team with 6.5 sacks despite getting injured four games ago; he's now off the team. In his stead the blitz-mad Gators get production from everywhere—nine players have at least two sacks—with Bullard again the main danger individually. Michigan will not have to face a single rampant rusher, which is good. They will have to pick up a ton of blitzers, which is probably okay with a veteran line that didn't bust a ton this year and a terrific pass-blocking RB in De'Veon Smith.

Michigan protecting Rudock and Rudock maintaining his late surge are how Michigan wins this game. It doesn't have to be great, or even good; it just has to outpace Treon Harris by a significant margin.


Run Defense vs Florida


yes Kelvin Taylor is the son of Fred Taylor you are old

This is a lot less certain after Michigan struggled against two of their final three opponents. The loss of Ryan Glasgow and Michigan's lack of a plan B against spread offenses saw the get gashed by Indiana, and then obliterated by Ohio State.

Happily, Florida looks nothing like either of those teams on offense—they are closer to Penn State, a shotgun-heavy offense with a weak offensive line and not much QB rush to speak of. Treon Harris, said QB, does have 377 rushing yards this year once the pile of sacks he's suffered is removed. That's almost 7 yards a pop, but with around seven on-purpose carries a game after he emerged as the starter it's more side than staple.

Instead Florida leans heavily on RB Kelvin Taylor, who has just under a thousand yards on the season. These yards have been acquired with difficulty, as Taylor averages a hair under four yards a carry. The line is a problem, as Ace detailed:

Then there's the O-line, which allowed pressure on just about anything that wasn't a straight-up four-man rush. This is a screencap from a designed QB draw; FSU stunted and freshman guard Martez Ivey (#73) failed to switch his assignment, allowing the DE into the backfield untouched:

That wasn't the only time UF had issues with stunts and twists; I noted two other missed pickups that led to sacks. Blitz recognition was a problem all around.

PFF actually loves Taylor:

The raw numbers are not particularly impressive (248 carries, 985 yards, 4.0 yards/carry), but a +19.1 run grade that ranks 13th in the nation shows that Taylor made the most of the poor run blocking. While he’s not a breakaway threat, Taylor has the short-area quickness to maximize his offensive line and keeping the offense on schedule will be crucial against the Wolverines.

But Florida is 95th in line yards per carry on standard downs. Despite being considerably faster than De'Veon Smith, Taylor is almost identical to him in fancy stats. Same YPC, same "highlight yards," same number of carries that get five yards.

It won't surprise you to learn that Florida is zone, zone, zone under Doug Nussmeier. That is a worry since Michigan has struggled against zone in their two recent pratfalls, but the level of execution here is not the same. Also, Nussmeier is more inside than outside zone and Michigan does better with that. PFF was perplexed by Florida's gameplan against Alabama:

Everyone knew the Gators’ offensive line would be overmatched, but I was surprised how often Florida tried to take on the Alabama defensive line with downhill runs. They ran inside-zone plays over and over again, only to be rocked into the backfield play after play and really never tried many wide or lateral runs. Unsurprisingly, every single starter on the O-line graded negatively in run blocking, and only Tyler Jordan graded positively in pass blocking (but he was still negative overall at -1.3).

Hopefully that continues.

This is a matchup Michigan should win handily even minus Ryan Glasgow. Florida is slow, they don't string together drives to tire opponents out, and Harris's legs are a sideshow instead of a component of the offense. That latter could change given the long layoff before the bowl and Michigan's… performance against Ohio State. Harris has the legs to kind of replicate JT Barrett, and this is a game in which any ability to move the ball could be game-winner.


Pass Defense vs Florida

Oct 4, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris (3) prepares to throw the ball during the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. The Gators won 10-9 Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Treon Harris is kind of like 5'11" early John Navarre

Will Grier's PED suspension led to Treon Harris, starting quarterback, and that's gone… in a direction. While Harris's 7.1 YPC is actually decent, once you set aside a couple of early games against tomato cans he is completing 49% of his passes despite a healthy dose of screens. Ace:

Harris has a habit of holding onto the ball forever before trying to make a desperate play after the cavalry has arrived. The offensive line isn't without fault—they're not good—but the amount of time Harris spends in the pocket exacerbates their issues. …

There were several plays in which Harris had little choice but to chuck the ball out of bounds; there were a few more in which he left himself no choice after waiting too long in the pocket.

Harris does not see the field well. He tends to stare down receivers. That won't be much of a problem against Michigan's inside-leverage man press, but he's short and gives the opposition an idea of where he's going so he gets a ton of passes batted down at the line.

Meanwhile the stunt pickup issues discussed in the previous section should have Michigan's defensive line licking its chops. Florida is 124th in adjusted sack rate; Michigan is 34th thanks largely to a pile of stunts. Meanwhile a starting tackle has been suspended and is going to be replaced by a true freshman. Michigan should have Henry, Wormley, and Hurst in Harris's face all day.

The main hitch here would be Michigan getting bombed downfield a few times. That seems unlikely (knock on wood) since #1 WR Demarcus Robinson is a possession guy, but if it does it will likely be 5'11" freshman Antonio Callaway.

You may remember Callaway pulling Florida's ass out of the fire against Tennessee; he also had punt return TDs against LSU and Alabama. He's averaging 20 yards a catch and will probably get Jourdan Lewis in his grill as a reward. While Calloway is a promising player, that matchup seems like a good one for Michigan—Lewis has not allowed much, if any, separation all year and Calloway relies heavily on YAC.

Tight end Jake McGee will get targeted a lot on short stuff and should have a number of third down conversions as he attacks the weak bit of the Michigan D. Even so this projects to be a rough day for the Gators.


Special Teams

This is a rollercoaster for Florida. Punter Johnny Townsend got a lot of practice this year; he averaged 45 yards a kick with just 4 touchbacks on 79(!) opportunities and 23 inside the 20. Opponents are averaging under 4 yards a punt return attempt. That is a Ray Guy-worthy year.

Meanwhile, Callaway is averaging 15 yards an attempt with the two touchdowns. Punting cannot be expected to carry a field position load like it did for Michigan much of the year.

On the other hand, Florida has made just 7 of 17 field goals this year. Junior Austin Hardin lost his job for a second in the middle of the year but somehow won it back. He is now 5 of 14 on the season. He has one make from 40+ and has missed 6 from inside 40. Florida eschews field goals whenever possible, obviously. In a game that projects to be low-scoring a missed field goal could be a major swing.

Nothing interesting has happened on a Florida kickoff all year.

Michigan started off great before suffering a series of big plays that started off unfortunate and got alarming as they continued; containing Calloway will be key. Kicker Kenny Allen is a huge advantage over Hardin, but he might be pressed into multiple duties since there are unconfirmed reports that Blake O'Neill is injured.



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Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Florida installs a bunch of zone read stuff and Michigan sticks with their DJ Derpin' gameplan from the OSU game
  • Florida moves the ball at all for non-fluke reasons.
  • Michigan can't protect Rudock.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Florida lines up for a field goal.
  • More of that Florida blocking each other thing when Michigan stunts.
  • Jake Butt makes coverage irrelevant.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for This Defense Is Shark Week In Human Form, +1 for What The Hell Damn Pants Ass Was That Against OSU, –1 for Florida's Offense Exists, I Guess, –1 for Massive QB Advantage, +1 for Bowl Games Are Weird, –1 for Lotta Field Goals In This Game And Florida Can't Kick Them)

Desperate need to win level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Ten Wins Is A Nice Milestone, +1 for This Is The OG Bloggers Bowl, +1 for Top 15-ish In Harbaugh Year One, –1 for Citrus Is Kind Of The Whatever Bowl.)

Loss will cause me to... sigh expansively about the state of the offense, in all likelihood

Win will cause me to... wither Orson Swindle's sense of self into a tiny mote that I will consume while laughing like a Bond villain

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

First one to ten wins?

I feel vaguely confident because Rudock's late emergence gives Michigan something to hang their hat on. I don't think he'll rip it up, but he did very well against a similarly terrifying defense until he got knocked out, and a repeat would be enough to win. Also, field goals.

Turnovers, a punt return from Calloway, or getting hit with more than a couple big plays would be the main way to lose, and those are all possible.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • A wild Ty Isaac appears! It isn't very effective.
  • Rudock is reasonably effective but gets sacked four times. He still manages 7-8 YPA.
  • Jourdan Lewis gets a pick.
  • Michigan, 15-11


Decatur Jack

December 31st, 2015 at 4:18 PM ^

There were stories about what happened.

It's true...all of it.


The Tebow

The Henne

They're real.

The HARBAUGH...It's calling to You.

Just let it in.

BOWL WARS: The Harbaugh Awakens

January 1, 2016


December 31st, 2015 at 4:30 PM ^

I know Rudock is practicing and says healthy but of course him not getting hurt determines this outcome as any backup vs this defense = doom.

Two sad run games face off so it comes down to the arms of Rudock vs Harris.  Yes UF has the better secondary overall even if Peppers does play IMO but man its such a wash game.  Going to come down to kickers?  Also our coverage teams fell off big time last 5 weeks of season - can't have that in a game of field position.

13-10 UM in a game that hurts the eyes.


December 31st, 2015 at 4:33 PM ^

That seems unlikely (knock on wood) since #1 WR Demarcus Robinson is a possession guy, but if it does it will likely be 5'11" freshman Antonio Callaway.



December 31st, 2015 at 4:39 PM ^

I'm down here looking forward to the game tomorrow. I think if we see the Indiana/Penn State/Ohio State Rudock there's good reason for confidence


December 31st, 2015 at 6:28 PM ^

As Henry out of HS ... if he can't get it done under Harbaugh. .. there is no NFL. We need some people to step up on every unit in this game. X factor is the run game.


January 1st, 2016 at 10:44 AM ^

Eh, there was plenty of talk about psychological issues in the OSU locker room prior to the game this year. Didn't mean squat as it turned out.

Everybody gets up for Michigan, and Florida won't have any trouble in that respect today.


December 31st, 2015 at 6:51 PM ^

DJ Terrapin yeah. Michigan wins this game with passing game because it can't do anything else offensively and neither can Floriduh. Unless Rudock gets murdered, which we never happens...oh wait. Welp, here it goes: Florida 13, Michigan 20 in OT. It's going to be ugly throughout, folks. Stock up on Pepto.

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G Money

December 31st, 2015 at 10:08 PM ^

Harbaugh inhereted a very talented team. The defense was high caliber last year, and returned almost every key player. 

The offense is where people make incorrect assesments. UM hasn't had a full cadre of OL since Hoke's first year, due to 2 entire classes being barren. Hoke, to his credt, went into overdrive in recruiting OL. You don't see the fruits of recruiting a HS OL generally untile AT LEAST 3 years from recruitment, but generally 3-5 years.  Most of Hoke's OL recruits STILL had underclassmen eligibilty. Think about that...

Here's the key: By the end of 2014, that OL actually started moving around some decent DL's (see OSU 2014). (By the way, the OL this year actually looked worse at the end of the year compared to the beginning of the year.. But that's another discussion)...

There was a 5 star running backs this year (Hoke recruitied) and a Rb that ran for 100 yards against OSU. Hoke threw in another 5 star recruit for Jim.

Peppers made several key plays on offense and was probably our best offensive and defensive player. Recruited by Hoke but injured last year.

Butt is probably the best TE in the conference and was injured for much of the yerar.

Qb was the  biggest question mark, and to Harbaugh's credit, he get  a READY-to-go player, who honestly, looked worse in his first 5 games at UM than he did at Iowa.

With the entire OL returning PLUS another class of players to compete for jobs, adding a 5th year senior qb who was 4th in accuracy in the B10, adding Peppers and adding Butt, this offense was prepared to go.

When Ruddock agreed to transfer here, I moved us from 7-9 wins to 9-10 wins. 


January 1st, 2016 at 12:07 PM ^

ESPN guys talking about what Harbaugh will do with his players. I've also read that the staff has used that reasoning with recruits.

I think it's a pretty shallow analysis and cheap recruiting strategy. There is a lot of talent on the offense and no evidence that Harbaugh wouldn't have recruited them. It's time to quit insulting the players on offense and taking credit for the defense.


January 1st, 2016 at 1:13 AM ^

I'm getting a little worried after watching Bama throttle Sparty. SEC = Speed, speed, and more speed. I see a hard fought physical game with the good guys hitting a game winning 42 yard field goal as time expires for a 23-21 Citrus Bowl victory.

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January 1st, 2016 at 4:08 AM ^

But I was confident that we would play well against OSU but we go pounded again. I hope UF offense is still awful!  Michigan 23 - Florida 19