Posted on September 3, 2017, by Travis Pulver
Heading into the 2017 season, many found it a little harder to get behind the Michigan Wolverines this year. After losing a ton of guys to the NFL and graduation, including ten of 11 starters on defense, there was no telling what the team was going to look like this season. On the other side of the field, the Florida Gators were eager to find out if they could actually generate some offense this year.
By the time the game was done Saturday afternoon, there would only be one fan base going home happy—Michigan’s.
Florida likely hoped that its defense could keep them in the game while the offense worked the kinks out. For the first half, they did just that by returning two interceptions for touchdowns leading the team to a 17-13 lead at the half.
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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh briefly took his quarterback, Wilton Speight, out of the game after back-to-back pick 6’s
“I wanted him to just reset, calm down,” Harbaugh said (Detroit Free Press).” Which was good to see. John jumped in there and did a good job, but I was happy to see Wilton rebound.”
But the second half was an entirely different story.
Michigan’s offense put up 10-points on the first two drives of the half to give the Wolverines a 23-17 lead heading into the final quarter. Florida switched quarterbacks early in third in hopes that Malik Zaire could provide a sport to the offense. But it wasn’t enough of one against a dominant Michigan defense.
Florida generated all of 42-yards on offense in the second half before ending the game with a 39-yard drive. It certainly didn’t help that the Gators had ten guys suspended including the team’s best receiver (Anthony Callaway) and running back (Jordan Scarlett).
But considering how much the Michigan defense dominated the game, it is doubtful they would have made that much of a difference.
“It’s gonna hurt, and if it doesn’t, then something is wrong,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said (ESPN). “We have a lot more to play. I like this team, I like the guys on this team. I think we have a chance to grow and I believe we will.”
Both teams pretty much looked like new editions of last year’s squads. Michigan’s defense was just as dominant as before and their offense was carried by the running game (215 yards; the passing game chipped in 218 yards).
Florida’s defense played well overall. The ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ strategy worked well enough in the first half. The two pick-6’s certainly helped. But with the offense sputtering much like it did last season (192 total yards; 181 passing and 11 rushing), they were on the field too much in the second.
Even the best defenses wear down. The icing on the cake came when Malik Zaire was sacked in the end zone, fumbled, and Michigan’s Noah Furbush recovered it for a touchdown to make the final score 33-17.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see what McElwain does at quarterback. Neither Feleip Franks or Malik Zaire were overly impressive. But were they set up for failure with so many players suspended?
The game was Florida’s first loss in a season opener in 27 years.
The Gators will try to rebound against the Northern Colorado Bears next weekend (7:30 PM kickoff). Michigan will try to keep the good times rolling at home against Cincinnati (kickoff at 12 PM ET).