Michigan another opportunity for Gators to prove 2018 is different

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Florida coach Dan Mullen talks to a player during practice Wednesday at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. [Jason Parkhurst via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl]

ATLANTA — Practice was over and the Florida players were making their way off the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But not everybody was finished.

In one end zone, defensive end Malik Langham was working hard on technique with Tyrone Smith, the coordinator of strength and conditioning at UF.

Langham won’t be playing Saturday against Michigan in the Peach Bowl. He’s a freshman who is redshirting this year.

But it was another indication of how Florida may be in the present, but the staff still has an eye toward the future.

This season will finish in Atlanta, but this was step one in a building process. And to see how that first step has progressed, the guys who will be playing are locked in on showing their opponent how far they have come.

A good chunk of this team remembers what happened the last time UF faced Michigan. It was ugly, a 33-17 loss at Jerry World to open the 2017 season.

“I think Michigan knows this is a very different team,” said cornerback CJ Henderson. “We’re not the same team as last year.”

That team opened the season with high expectations that were flushed right from the start. It was exposed and embarrassed by a Michigan team that dominated both lines of scrimmage.

That group won four games and went without a bowl game (in case you forgot, although I’m guessing you did not).

This team won nine games and is experiencing the treatment of a big-time bowl game.

Take yourself back to that Michigan game a year ago and imagine what you would have said if I told you this team would be here getting ready to face the Wolverines in a New Year’s Six bowl.

No, I wouldn’t have believed it either.

“Light years,” said linebacker Vosean Joseph. “A rematch in this game from where we were last year … This whole season has been about playing teams we lost to last year.”

Players are supposed to improve from year to year, so that’s not the big surprise. But there are different level of improvement and certainly different levels of playing like a team.

You take a guy like Jachai Polite.

“I feel like I came a great distance,” he said Wednesday after practice. “Coaches have helped me really a lot. All around, the whole team, it’s just hard to explain. It’s different.”

Or a guy like Martez Ivey, who finally lived up to his five-star status.

“As a team we play hard, are a lot smarter and have more confidence than the team that played Michigan last year,” Ivey said. “There’s a little more heart out there.”

And of course, Feleipe Franks isn’t the same quarterback who threw for 75 yards and had a key lost fumble in that second-half rout last year.

There is no doubt this is a different Florida team. But is it good enough?

Bowl games are different animals. On the surface, Florida seems like the team that is more committed with four Michigan players already announcing they are going to sit this one out.

But it still comes down to handling the business at hand. Michigan is the favorite and the six-point spread has barely budged even with all of the stud players the Wolverines will be without.

Talking to the players Wednesday, this seems like an important game, not just a chance to gather bowl gifts and compete in go-kart races.

They want to keep the momentum of a three-game winning streak going. Mullen’s message has been simple: win the game. That’s hardly unique.

It’s not any different at the Marriott Marquis (Michigan’s home for the holidays) than it is at the Omni where Florida is staying.

You know what Florida needs? It needs a bunch of guys to play like Dante Fowler. You remember that 2015 Birmingham Bowl when we wondered how motivated the Gators would be.

Fowler played like his hair was on fire and Florida beat East Carolina.

This isn’t East Carolina.

But it’s also not the Florida that the Michigan players saw last year.

It still comes down to this for these Gators.

Prove it.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

23 COMMENTS

  1. One game at a time. Round out the recruiting class by February. Showcase what we have in the spring game. Don’t take a step backward in the fall, win that bowl game too and have a Top-10 recruiting class. We’ll be in the SEC conference game by the next season, and probably a national championship the season following that.

    Sound reasonable?

    • That timeline is reasonable 6, IF Mullen develops either Jones into an elite QB between now and then. We’ll need an elite QB to go along with our great running game and excellent D in order to challenge the likes of Georgia, Alabama and potentially Texas A&M.

      Franks will NEVER be an elite QB. He will go down in Gator history along side the likes of Terry Dean, Doug Johnson and Jeff Driskel, serviceable but way short of elite.

      Go Gators!!!

      • I might have agreed with you about Felipe at the beginning of the season, but not now. Speaking with such certainty about the coming failure of a Mullen coached quarterback I am sure does not resonate well with a lot of the loyal fan base and I am sure does not go over well with his teammates. I think the future looks bright for Mr. Franks and the the whole Gator Nation. Go Gators

        • I’d say there’s a 60-40 chance at this point that Franks turns it and becomes THAT quarterback we all hoped for. That certainly recognizes the improvement he has shown this season, both between the ears and with regard to mechanics. Thing is, tho, starting next year the competition just made a real quantum leap too, between those two Jones guys. But we’ll see — one thing for sure, you never know!

        • Nopriors, I’m as big a Gator fan as has ever come along and I’ve been following college football closely enough to have made money betting on it for 30+ years. I believe I know from whence I speak and I don’t lie to myself, or other Gator fans just to maintain the happy fairy tale until reality smacks us in the face.

          Keep in mind, as I explain my position, that 2018 is Franks’ THIRD season in college. Fromm at UGA and Lawrence at Clemson led their teams to the CFP final 4 as true freshmen. Tagovailoa led Alabama to a come-from-behind, overtime NC game win, also as a true freshman.

          There are physical gifts an elite QB must have, like being tall enough to see downfield over his blockers, or throwing the 15 yard out “on a rope” from either hash mark, or throwing a 50 yard bomb accurately. Franks has all those gifts in spades.

          An elite QB can accurately throw passes that require touch, like a 10 yard quick throw over the middle to a receiver in traffic that hits his hands running in full stride; or drop a fade pass to a receiver along a sideline, or in the corner of the end zone; or drop it softly in front of a RB on a screen pass. Franks has been INEPT at throwing ALL those passes and he’s been practicing them EVERY DAY since his arrival in Hogtown, 3 years ago!

          Finally, there are mental gifts an elite QB MUST have. Those are the gifts that separated the 3 guys whose statues stand outside the Swamp from ALL the other guys who ever played QB for the Gators. Those gifts include leadership in the huddle, accurately reading defenses, looking off primary receivers, going through progressions and getting rid of the ball QUICKLY. Franks should’ve demonstrated ALL those mental gifts routinely by now and he CLEARLY HASN’T.

          So, I stand by what I said before. If all we Gator fans want is a QB that will lead UF to 9 or 10 wins and a NY-6 bowl every season, Franks is our guy. However, if we want a QB that will lead UF to another NC, we’ll need someone BETTER than Franks will EVER be.

          Go Gators!!!

  2. Not sure if I’m imagining or delusional, but in my opinion we are not that far from competing with the likes of UGA. Sure they have better recruiting classes,but coaching and on the field when UF stood their ground against UGA for 3+ quarters and could have taken a different look had we not given the ball away 3 times. Uf even looked better than UGA.

    I wouldn’t be too surprised for Uf to hand UGA a Loss next season. Smart was out coached by CDM this season, imagine next season. We could very well be playing in the SECCG. Just an opinion

  3. And I like your opinion Wisconsin Gator. We’ve had a very good season so far and a win against Michigan and a top 10 finish would be a awesome finish. And to think this is only year one for Coach Mullen and his staff. I look for the Gators to have a better season next year. As for Franks, don’t be surprised if he’s our starting qb next year. He came a long way from the start of season till now. I hope we don’t lose to many JR’s to the NFL. It would be great to have them come back next year. Hope everybody has a SAFE, but a Happy New Year.
    GOOD DAY……………..

  4. Saturday it will be interesting to see how Franks responds to a month of prep/coaching. If he responds well, then maybe he will be the starter next season. If he looks like crap again, then its time to move on. Saturday will be all about how the whole team responds to Dan Mullen’s preparation.

    • I’m with you BSCE, Saturday’s game may be an interesting test for Mr. Franks.

      Michigan has the type of salty D that has given Mr. Franks fits in the past and Ohio State beat it by going play action to receivers crossing over the middle (over linebackers and underneath safeties,) something which Mr. Franks has been particularly bad at doing ever since he took over the starting job for the Gators vs. this very same Michigan D. To win in a rout, he’ll have to do something new for him, which could only be attributed to extra practice work with CDM.

      The Gators may also win a ground-and-pound, low scoring, defensive struggle vs. a Michigan D missing 4 key starters, because their O is not very impressive. However, if that happens and Mr. Franks throws a minimal number of “safe” passes, we won’t learn any more about his development in CDM’s O than we know today.

      Lastly, I’ll be very intrigued by the timing and magnitude of the “package of plays” Mr. Jones will get to execute. Let’s see how much he gets to play with the game’s outcome on the line.

      Go Gators!!!

  5. We will see. Win or lose, this is just another game, just another week, just another team. If we win, that’s great, but it is just a win. If we lose, that’s a shame, but is just one loss, nota referendum on the season. It all comes down to what they do with the experience. The loss in the Fiasco Bowl motivated that theam to work harder, and they came back and won a national title the next year.

    One of the big mistakes Michigan made this year was building that OSU game up in their minds as some kind of life or death struggle for all the ages. They psyched themselves out and it hurt their performance. Practice hard. Play hard. Every week.

  6. Its interesting here in my NWFL S/D we are allowed to have street flags up for game day. In dang Walton County, the MI residents (mostly retired Yankees) will out number the Gator flags at least on a 5 to 1 ratio. My Grandparents are all rolling around in their graves. There will be at least a dozen MI Blue & yeller flags (usually only one MI Green & White flag guy, he’s likely genuine). Are they just sunshine fans? We will find out Saturday. I’m an X 19 season ticket holder booster grad who, with the past Hole uprising around here (all sunshine Bobby fans), I take no prisoners when we win. Sorry, but I’m a bad winner!

      • If we take care of business, I will have fun! As I mused above, after a full regular season and DM having a whole month to get these guys ready, how far have we come? Saturday will tell the tell. We have come far, but we’ve had our mental ups and downs. As its been the whole season, I can envision a glorious win or an embarrassment. I love the drama! Go Gators!

        • Either way, the beat goes on and other than another year closer to the check out line, I look forward to 2019 more than I have any year in the last ten.

          I get you about all those Michigan yankees up there….same thing out here in Texas, except they’re all from California! They’ve started buying up the Hill Country so much that it’s getting hard to find a Longhorn steer west of Austin. Mostly nice folks tho…..but I don’t think they get the culture for the most part.