Atlanta, GA –-It has been a season full of broken streaks for Dan Mullen and the Gators. In week two of this season, Florida saw a streak of 31 consecutive wins over Kentucky come to an end. As the clock hit zero, many fans were ready to throw in the towel on the rest of the season.
Nearly a decade of being conditioned to mediocrity or worse from the program had much of Gator Nation and the national media believing that we were in for another long and painful season. But Dan Mullen and his staff saw something different. They saw an opportunity to coach and improve a group of guys who just didn’t have much confidence.
As the season went on, it began to reveal that the streak of ineffective offense and abysmal quarterback play was also coming to an end. The Gators offense posted its best numbers since 2009. And quarterback Feleipe Franks produced the best stat line a Gators quarterback has had since Tim Tebow in 2008.
After suffering through five consecutive losses to in state rival Florida State, Mullen’s Gators ended that losing streak in a 41-14 blowout. That game also ended a streak of 36 consecutive bowl appearances for the Seminoles.
The Gators closed out the season by ending another streak on Saturday. Heading into the Peach Bowl matchup with Michigan, the Gators had lost each of the four previous contests with the Wolverines. By the final whistle, Mullen and the boys had added another broken streak to their list.
Much had been made about the perceived talent gap between the two teams. The experts and oddsmakers were confident in how this game would play out. But when they met on the field, one team saw things differently.
Florida came out focused and determined to leave Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a win and continued momentum for next season.
While Michigan had several key playmakers opt out of playing the game to prepare for the NFL combine, Florida’s draft eligible players took the opportunity to add to their legacy.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson made his presence known early. But the full impact was more than the sum of his stats. Apart from two interceptions, including a pick six on a tipped pass, his leadership was evident in the secondary and on the sideline.
1st Downs UF: 15 UM: 18
Passing Yards UF: 170 UM: 249
Rushing Yards UF: 250 UM: 69
Total Yards UF: 420 UM: 318
Total Plays UF: 64 UM: 68
Penalties UF: 5-40 UM: 4-22
Turnovers UF: 0 UM:2
It wasn’t until the second half that Florida really began to pull away. However, the edge was apparent on both sides of the ball throughout the game, beginning on the first defensive series.
From the onset, Florida’s defensive front was in the Michigan backfield. Their aggressive play looked like it might work in Michigan’s favor at first as Shea Patterson was able to take advantage by faking the handoff and breaking free on the edge for a gain of 20 plus yards.
Two plays later, the Wolverines broke the edge once again and raced 48 yards for a touchdown. Only, Christian Turner had stepped out of bounds and the ruling on the field was overturned. The result of the play was third and one.
Florida found their way through the cracks in Michigan’s offensive line to force a fourth down attempt. On that leaping attempt, Vosean Joseph timed his play perfectly and stopped Ben Mason dead.
That opening series set the tone for the Gators defense who would hold a Michigan offense that is predicated on the ability to run, to a paltry 69 yards rushing.
UF Franks: 13/23 173 YDS 1 TD
UM Patterson: 22/36 236 YDS 1 TD 2 INT
The Gators opening possession was a quick three and out. After that first series, Mullen and Franks decided to go with a silent cadence to counter the crowd noise. With that change, so came a settled demeanor for the Gators offense.
The Gators found the redzone on consecutive possessions but were forced to settle for Evan McPherson field goals. Otherwise, the game may have gotten very ugly, very early.
As it were, Florida fell behind 7-3 and then 10-6 before finally breaking the seal on the endzone. On the legs of Feleipe Franks, –who ran for 67 yards on the day– the Gators took a 13-10 halftime lead. Once they took that lead, they never relinquished it.
Florida received to start the second half and were forced to punt just a few plays later. On Michigan’s next drive, Shea Patterson was baited into throwing an interception near the goalline when Gardener-Johnson floated to the right hashmark before breaking back to the left for the takeaway.
UF Perine: 6 CAR 76 YDS 1 TD Franks: 14 CAR 67 YDS 1 TD Scarlett: 9 CAR 59 YDS 1 TD
UM Turner: 7 CAR 22 YDS Evans: 7 CAR 20 YDS
This was the turning point in the game. Florida capitalized on the turnover and took a 20-10 lead with a 5 yard pass to Lamical Perine. One series later, Jordan Scarlett found the endzone for what might be his final touchdown as a Gator.
With their backs against the wall, Shea Patterson led the Wolverines on a drive that got all the way down to the Gators 6 yard line after a little help from a pass interference call on freshman cornerback, Trey Dean. A holding penalty against Michigan drove them back to the 16 and forced a field goal.
With a 27-13 lead, the Gators weren’t finished yet. On the heels of a sack and a bumbled double pass, the Gators found themselves facing a third and twenty situation.
UF Jefferson: 4 REC 64 YDS Hammond: 2 REC 61 YDS Perine: 4 REC 22 YDS 1 TD
UM Collins: 5 REC 80 YDS Peoples-Jones: 8 REC 71 YDS 1 TD
It looked like Mullen was trying to pick up a few yards on third down to help his punter to flip the field. Lamical Perine didn’t get the memo as he burst through the middle and into the secondary for a 58 yard touchdown.
Todd Grantham’s defense continued to assault Patterson and the Wolverines running backs, forcing a punt.
Florida was held to a three and out on the ensuing drive. Michigan came after Tommy Townsend’s punt and got their second block of the day. This one bounced out of the back of the endzone resulting in a safety.
An afternoon full of pressure and being made one dimensional spelled disaster just a few plays after receiving the safety kick. Patterson’s pass was batted at the line of scrimmage and into the waiting arms of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who returned it for the final score of the game.
With nothing left to do but run out the clock, the Gators sideline was a mix of celebration, relief, and raw emotion. Mullen received the obligatory Gatorade bath as players soaked in the atmosphere. Feleipe Franks could be seen with a towel over his head, shedding tears of joy.
His journey has been a long and interesting one with many highs and lows in just two seasons. With this win, he avenged his first career start. A loss which was also against Michigan.
There is still much to do but this is a team with a rocket trajectory and many more joyful sideline and locker room celebrations. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Gators and their fans can feel pride and optimism throughout the off season.
It’s Peachy to be a Florida Gator!