|WHAT||Michigan vs Florida|
|THE LINE||Michigan –6|
|WEATHER||uh it's indoors|
Uh… right. This. Michigan plays Florida, again, in a repudiation of the importance of a "New Year's Six" bowl. Two years ago, Danny Kanell was firing out crazy conspiracy theories about Jabrill Peppers faking an injury so he could skip the FSU game. This time around four different Michigan players are taking a pass, one of them the almost certainly undraftable Juwann Bushell-Beatty. Nobody is batting an eye.
For the record, those guys are Bushell-Beatty, Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, and Karan Higdon. Florida is set to have its full contingent of players. Oddly, this has done nothing to the line, which opened Michigan –6 and remains Michigan –6 as this post goes up.
Otherwise, hey, it's conference foe Florida. They've got a good head coach now, but they're still recovering from the vast expanse of Keystone Kops pratfalls that was the Jim McElwain era.
[Hit THE JUMP for a team Michigan plays more often than most of the West]
Run Offense vs Florida
Joseph doesn't like getting ejected for targeting, but who does really
UF's rushing defense is surprisingly mediocre, ranking just 47th in S&P+. This does not include FCS games against Charleston Southern (43 carries, 222 yards) and Idaho (33 carries, 198 yards), although those were huge blowouts in which backups probably ceded big chunks of yards.
Against D-1, things were reliably meh after a stunning 303-yard outing from Kentucky in Week two. UF held Tennessee and Mississippi State to around 3 yards a carry; LSU, Vandy, Georgia, Mizzou, South Carolina, and Florida State all averaged between 4-5 yards a pop before taking out sacks.
Much of this comes down to a defensive line that's undersized. Starting ends Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga are both explosive edge rushers. They are both Josh Uche-sized. Polite actually chopped his weight down from 270 back to the 242 he's listed at on Florida's roster. Zuniga is another guy who's slimmed down after pushing 260; NFL draft reports mention that he's spent too much time as a DT(!), presumably when he was a bit bigger, and remains a relatively raw edge guy.
The starting defensive tackles are similarly light. Florida is starting WVU grad transfer Adam Shuler, who's 275. Nose Kyree Campbell does crack 300, but between the two of them they have six run stuffs on the year and their average tackle is three and a half yards downfield. Michigan's very middling DT set of Mone and Kemp is at 1.2.
Florida does have some big big boys backing up their starters—recruitniks may remember Tedarrell Slaton, who's now a 340-pound NT. Playing time suggests he's not quite ready for prime time.
The linebacker level is also familiar, as Michigan will play David Reese, the guy they more or less discarded in favor of Devin Bush, again. Reese has rounded into a solid, instinctive run stuffer but he's hampered working behind a DL that struggles to keep him clean. He's a fringe NFL draft guy at the moment and not a big playmaker—just 2.5 TFLs this year. Vosean Joseph is more of a wildcard, capable of some big plays but also somewhat prone to getting out of position. UF doesn't ask him to do much in coverage; you've got an idea of what's coming when he's out there. He's sort of like last year's version of Devin Bush.
Both of those guys are around 220, which is of course very modern football but also not a good pairing with their DL, especially because UF runs a 4-2-5 like a lot of teams.
Florida makes up for the tendency to get shoved around by slashing into the backfield a ton and getting TFLs. Polite and Zuniga get a ton of run stuffs, as does Joseph, with Reese and spacebacker Chauncey Gardner-Johnson also chipping in. Jon Runyan Jr and Andrew Stueber are going to get a serious test, as will Michigan's various run blitz pickups. Michigan's been very good at the latter; the former is an open question, one that might get resolved unpleasantly.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN TACKLES vs GETTING CLONKERED BY THOSE WEE DEs. Florida gets a ton of ground production from their teeny defensive ends, but when they get got they go for a ride. Down G seems like a good thing to point at them.
Pass Offense vs Florida
Polite is #99 and not very polite
Those defensive ends again. Polite has 11 sacks and is tracking towards the first round of the draft:
"He has the things that you can not teach: the bend, the dip, his ability to put his foot in the ground and turn like that. I think a really good example - and Polite is not on this level but he is not that far - when [Denver Broncos outside linebacker] Von Miller had a sack about a week ago that was clipped out everywhere, I think our buddy Jon Ledyard said 'it's like running full speed under a table.' The way he can dip and keep his body that flat and go full speed, Polite shows some of that."
Polite is the best case scenario for Uche next year. Zuniga has chipped in 6.5 of his own; that plus seven from Gardner-Johnson and Joseph has Florida 12th in sack rate nationally. This is bad news for Michigan, which has proven adept at picking up weird blitzes and stunts but still has a fundamental issue in pass protection at tackle. Florida's rush is aimed right at Michigan's main offensive weakness.
The back five will be very familiar to Michigan fans: it's a lot of cover one with a hybrid space player who can drop or blitz. Gardner-Johnson has already declared for the draft and is Kiper's #4 safety. He'll get a lot of the Gentry matchup and will do fairly well with it, but he, like most defensive backs, is not 6'8".
Florida hasn't played a lot of functional passing attacks this year. Georgia (#4 in passing S&P+) and Mizzou (#17) are the only teams in Michigan's (#10) ballpark; Jake Fromm hit exactly 10 YPA on a 17/24 day and Drew Lock had 250 yards on a 24/32 day. Both guys were sacked once and avoided any INTs.
The safeties have stats more in the Kinnel range (lot of tackles, very few PBUs) than the Metellus one; four CBs rotate through. The secondary is very, very young, with three sophomores and a freshman at CB and two more sophomores part of the safety rotation. Their drill-down numbers in S&P+ are good in most regards except for the one you'd expect to be bad given their youth: explosive plays. Michigan should have opportunities down the field if they can keep Patterson upright.
KEY MATCHUP: STILL THE TACKLES vs STILL THE DEs. If Stueber and Runyan can hold up even decently well that gives Michigan a lot of confidence about their entire OL going into next year.
Run Defense vs Florida
The Gators have two get-orf-me tailbacks and have activated Felipe Franks as a Tebow-esque fullquarterback, so there's a lot to shut down here. Florida's main issue as a rush offense is a lack of big plays. They're top 20 in all the drill-down stats S&P+ has to offer except explosiveness, in which they're 95th. The three main guys all have highlight yard rates of 5 yards or a below, which is not so good.
Getting to those highlight opportunities, though: yep, they're good at that. The combination of Florida's under-utilized OL talent suddenly finding themselves in a real program and Mullen's diverse, run-focused spread 'n' shred has turned the Florida offense into a grinding mini-chunk machine. They're second in the country at getting to third and short.
The two-headed running back consists of Jordan Scarlett, who Michigan did not play last year because of the credit card scandal, and Lamical Perine, who had eight yards on seven carries. Perine is at his best once he gets up a head of steam, when he can break through tackles and occasionally wear a DB like a cape.
Scarlett is similar but probably the better player. These PFF stats from last summer give you an indication of what kind of running back he is:
At 5-foot-11, 213 pounds, Scarlett stayed up through first contact on 40.8 percent of his rushes in 2016, which ranked No. 3 in the 2018 draft class.
Scarlett averaged 3.75 yards after contact per attempt last season, which ranked No. 2 among draft-eligible SEC running backs with at least 150 carries.
He's a short but mighty weeble-wobble comparable to Karan Higdon.
I really like both of the Florida running backs but I may like Jordan Scarlett a tad more (pending off field issues). Silky smooth runner with great contact balance and good vision. Really good runner. pic.twitter.com/r0oFp0nlPX
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 26, 2018
Neither guy has long speed. Florida was fifth in the SEC at busting 10 yard runs and 10th at busting 30-yarders.
This too doesn't look like Michigan's ideal matchup. Michigan's been meh at preventing teams with big interior dudes from getting that first chunk. While Michigan should be able to hold Florida relatively down the kind of things they like to do are likely grab 3 or 5 yards here and there. A big play is unlikely; UF will have to drive the field.
KEY MATCHUP: JOSH ROSS vs NO PRESSURE. Just be Devin Bush now plz.
Pass Defense vs Florida
this is not last year's pass pro [Chris Cook]
This is a mirror of Michigan's situation. Last year a comically abysmal coaching situation sunk the Gator offense. The original sin of Jim McElwain's final Gator outfit was their pass protection, which was hardly better than Michigan's hellish Drevno-Frey mashup. Michigan was 118th in sack rate allowed; Florida was 114th. Martez Ivey, a two-time all SEC tackle, wasn't the problem. Everyone else having no idea what to do was. Ivey occasionally pointed this out mid-play:
Watch Florida left tackle Martez Ivey start yelling at the left guard on the Furbush touchdown before the play is even over:
You! Come over here! I know you're in the middle of a football play, but look upon the destruction your incompetence has wrought! Feel in your very bones the touchdown you have given up and shall never recover from! Eat at Arby's!
Florida fired everyone and brought in Dan Mullen; Mullen brought over John Hevesy, who'd been Mullen's OL coach for the entirety of his Ole Miss tenure. Hevesy has wrought a transformation hardly less impressive than Ed Warinner's. Florida went from 114th in sack rate allowed to 15th. They are first nationally at protecting on passing downs. Dios mio, man. (Seth thinks they're not actually excellent but are somewhat lucky at avoiding sacks when protection breaks down, but even so…)
As you can probably imagine this has helped Felipe Franks enormously. He's added over a yard per attempt, four points of completion percentage, and 14 touchdowns while reducing his INT count by two. This still only gets him up to meh. 59% completions, 7.6 YPA, all while running an ungodly number of screens. Seth's charting of the LSU game alternated between bad-ass throws—5 DOs—and a series of turfed balls, marginal completions, and indecision:
Franks threw half a dozen amazeballs passes in these two games, hence the high PFF rating despite a 12/27 for 161 yards outing. He also wrecks more than half of their passing game on his own. After a couple of hits he had a couple of series vs. LSU of panicking at nothing. After a pair of bogglingly bad throws against Georgia he spent most of the second half throwing screens (and one incredible dart). He also has that weird Henne-like characteristic of getting a lot of passes batted despite being super tall because of his arm motion.
…Versus five ranked opponents Franks's line was a mediocre 73/139 (53%) with 4 TDs and 4 INTs and 5.8 YPA (not counting sacks). Against unranked/FCS teams he was 102/160 and 19-2 and 9.3 YPA.
That's close to the same guy Michigan saw last year.
Florida's receiving corps is middling. Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson came close to transferring to Michigan last summer and became the #1 guy. This is clearer when it comes to targets (64, nearly twice the #2 guy) than catches (31, five more than #2) because Jefferson's catch rate is 48%. He gets a lot of downfield targets from a scatter-shot QB. Trevon Grimes and Tyrie Cleveland are also in the same vein of big leapy downfield targets; you probably remember Cleveland making a big leapy catch down the sideline in last year's game:
Grimes, meanwhile, is 6'5". All of these guys are outside WRs of a variety that Michigan's done well against with this CB crew and should be forced into difficult contested catches when they are targeted. Notably, Brandon Watson had a good day against Cleveland and company last year.
The obvious catch is "what about the quick guys," and Florida has their usual contingent. Kadarius Toney, a converted QB, and Josh Hammond are both slot types. Freddie Swain is an inside-outside tweener. Toney takes a smattering of wildcat snaps and has 19 carries on the year; he's also the main screen guy.
He doesn't get much downfield action as a true sophomore who was a QB in high school and probably isn't going to show Brandon Watson his intestines like various OSU players did, but Florida's going to test that. A guy like Toney is going to feature in the bowl gadget package coaches love to put in.
At first glance Florida does not appear to be in a good spot to replicate the devastation OSU wrought. They'll have a couple of big, slightly clunky guys who Watson matches up well against. Franks is emphatically not Haskins; he's more likely to chunk a big ol' rock downfield than meticulously pick apart underneath coverage. Michigan does have to get to the quarterback much better than they did in the OSU game. That might be tough without Gary and Bush and with Winovich nursing an injury he plans to get fixed after the game.
KEY MATCHUP: BRANDON WATSON vs WHATEVER THAT WAS or AMBRY THOMAS. Watson's OSU game was the defensive equivalent of O'Korn in 2017 and he will be the big flashing "kick me" for the first drive or two. He should bounce back since Florida is more suited to his skill set.
Florida(#6) is just above Michigan(#7) in FEI's special teams rankings thanks in large part to a pair of good specialists. Kicker Evan McPherson is 15/17 on the year on a ton of short stuff. He's 9/9 from inside 30 and 3/4 from 30-40 and 40+, with a long of 48.
Punter Tommy Townsend has a 45 yard average and a 42 yard net; both are excellent. He's got 21 punts inside the 20 and just three touchbacks.
Swain has a punt return TD, FWIW. Florida has all but ceased to bother with kickoff returns—they have just 8 on the season.
KEY MATCHUP: AHHHH YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS
- Toney catches eight drag routes.
- The depleted Michigan front seven can't lay a finger on Franks.
- Michigan's OT's are getting whooped on air and land.
Cackle with knowing glee if…
- Michigan's weird Florida juju is still happening.
- That thing where Franks only plays well against very bad Ds pans out.
- Some new dudes do some dude things.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 (Baseline: 5; +1 for Lingering Malaise From Whatever That Was, +1 for The Last Time I Watched Football It Was Like Being Flayed Alive, +1 for Nothing Means Anything Why Predict At All, –1 for [Zombie Nation] We Own Florida [/Zombie Nation], –1 for Felipe More Like Guy Who Doesn't Throw Good-e, +1 for Ack Their DEs, –1 for To Preserve My Wavering Sanity I Will Pretend That Events That Came Before Have Any Minute Bearing On Events That Follow)
Desperate need to win level: 4 (Baseline: 5; –1 Eat At Arby's, –1 for Four Starters Are Like Nah, –1 for Nobody In College Football Will Remember This Game Three Hours After It's Over, +1 for Hope Springs Eternal, +1 at Some Point There Will Be A Graphic About NY6 Wins? Maybe?)
Loss will cause me to… surgically replace my head with a basketball.
Win will cause me to… I mean I guess it would be nice.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I mean I dunno. Michigan's probably a touchdown better than Florida if they enter this game with a full contingent of dudes and have rebounded from the mother of all emasculations. We know that the first bit ain't happening. The second is an open question.
Adding to the uncertainty is the bifurcated nature of Florida's season, which features wins over the #12 and #15 S&P+ teams, blowout losses to #3 and #16, a narrow escape against #33, and a two-score loss to #40. I kind of think Michigan is more in the Georgia/Mizzou category because their passing game is a ton better than LSU and Mississippi State, which were Florida's best wins, and Franks isn't the kind of guy who can dice up man coverage a la Haskins.
But there is the strong possibility Michigan comes out and lays a giant egg. Your guess is as good as mine.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Andrew Stueber survives against UF's DEs. He doesn't do amazing, but he survives.
- Christian Turner inserts himself into the RB conversation next year.
- Michigan, 26-25.