UF preparing for challenge from Michigan’s top-ranked defense

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Michigan safety Josh Metellus (14) strips the ball from Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) in the second half of last year's game in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Florida’s offense finished the regular season on quite a roll, piling up more than 500 yards in each of the last three games.

“One of the things is our guys are a lot more comfortable in the offense now,” Mullen said. “As the year went on, comfortable in not just knowing the plays but knowing how to use the plays, how the plays are going to be, the opportunity to go make plays within the offense.

“When you get that comfort, you start to see us put up bigger numbers. So, I think just the confidence in what we’re doing and how we’re playing and they’re picking it up and understanding the offense.”

The Gators are in the comfort zone. But can they stay there in the Peach Bowl against the nation’s No. 1 defense. UF’s offensive hot streak figures to be seriously challenged by Michigan’s stout defense.

“Obviously, Michigan will be a huge challenge,” Mullen said. “Don Brown does a great job as a defensive coordinator. They’re very, very aggressive. They do a great job stopping the run, and then have great athletes in the secondary that can match up with all of your receivers and make great pressure on the quarterback.

“You see they can come at you at every level of the defense and have great players that can make plays at each level of the defense, and so we’re going to have to get a great plan together, and our guys are going to have to execute at a high level to put points on the board.”

This Michigan defense shut down the Gators in the opener last season in Arlington, Texas. UF managed just 11 yards rushing and 181 total yards in a 33-17 loss. And a struggling Feleipe Franks was benched in the second half.

The Wolverines will be facing a much different Florida offense — and a much different Feleipe Franks.

Franks has shown steady improvement over the course of the season in Mullen’s offense and is coming off one of the best performances of his career —  254 yards passing and three touchdowns in the 41-14 win over arch-rival Florida State.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround season for the Gators (from 4-7 to 9-3 and a New Year’s Six bowl) and for Franks. Last season, Franks threw for only 1,438 yards and nine touchdowns with eight interceptions. This season, he’s thrown for 2,284 yards and 23 touchdowns and had just six interceptions. He’s also rushed for six touchdowns.

Franks and the offense will be severely tested in Atlanta.

“When I’ve gotten to see (Michigan) play, they’re not afraid to think outside the box,” Mullen said. “Their defense obviously comes at you from a lot of different angles. They pressure you in different ways.

“When we got on the plane to head out recruiting (last Saturday), really didn’t know who we were going to play, and as soon as we found that out, luckily I had about six different teams loaded into the laptop, and hit the Michigan button to start watching their defense. I’ve seen a little bit more of their defense, which I know is very aggressive and attacking, comes at you from a lot of different angles.”
Mullen will study a lot of tape on the UM defense over the next few weeks. He might pay special attention to the Wolverines’ final game against Ohio State, a game in which the Buckeyes rolled up 62 points.

Despite that stunning meltdown, the Wolverines still lead the nation in total defense.

It’s a defense that is hoping to bounce back big Dec. 29.

“I feel like we’ve got a good chance to change that around,” Michigan senior safety Tyree Kinnel said earlier this week. “That only happened once to us this year. I feel like that’s not who we are. I feel like we’re going to come into this matchup (with) the defense we’ve been playing like all year. We’ve got about a good month to get ready.”


Up next

What: Peach Bowl

Who: No. 7 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 10 Florida (9-3)

When: Noon Dec. 29

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

26 COMMENTS

  1. LB/DE Jonathan Greenard will transfer to UF after graduating from Louisville, according to a report from Cardinal Sports. I had my computer messed up by updates and it took me a minute to find this players name. He is supposed to be good. GO GATORS!!!

  2. Time to think outside the box for CDM. How about coming out in the first quarter running the triple option??? 2nd quarter come out running a different offense. That may be too much for Franks…maybe just a game plan to get the ball out quickly and move the ball the way their defense gives us. CDM will look at all of UM’s games I would imagine and he and his staff will come up with a good game plan. It will be a defensive game to be sure, so the team with the most productive offense wins. Come on Franks and Jones – time for payback! GO GATORS!!!

  3. It will be good to study how OSU dissected Michigan’s D. They put up huge numbers.
    Michigan is very aggressive and will try to stop the run.
    Screen passes, jet sweeps and misdirection plays can be effective against their D and will gas them.
    Our O Line will need to buckle-up and get some push off the line for our RB’s.
    Watch Franks make quicker passes into the flat.
    Michigan hasn’t seen an SEC D all year and will be hard pressed to contain our rush and pressure on their QB.
    Gators 31-27.

    • OSU dissected Michigan’s D because they were the only really good team Michigan played this year! Easy for a defense to look good while playing mediocre teams.
      To Mullen – “When you get that comfort, you start to see us put up bigger numbers. ” When you play scrubs(ala, Idaho, FSU, SC) “you start to put up bigger numbers”!

    • I wonder if they realize how let down a lot of us Gators are about having to play them? The difference being, of course, that we plan on beating them on the field and “they”, on the other hand, probably plan on just showing up and letting nature take its course. An awful lot like LSU did, with the exception that I think LSU was and is a better team than Michigan.

      • What that tells me is they are going to be overlooking UF. That is fine with me, we need all the help we can get. They think they are all that because they beat a bunch of mediocre teams this year and lost to the only good team they played, great! Hope they keep thinking that way! Wish I had more confidence in what UF team was going to show up, I could make a fortune since Uf isnt favored, too big of a risk though.

        • Hey Daz – good to see you back. I thought I might have offended you and that was not my intention. I was giving constructive criticism on how you responded to a lot of people. You shouldn’t criticize someone until after you have had a conversation with them. Then if they are a complete idiot – well then bash away…LMAO. I joke too much on here and I am going to cut way back on that. My humor can be out there. Keep up the convo’s as you know we GATOR fans are some of the toughest in the world. GO GATORS!!!

      • We think a lot alike Gator6.

        I’ve been saying that I think this Michigan team is a lot like LSU, extremely similar, and that Michigan could walk into this game to mail it in too. One exception… LSU didn’t walk into The Swamp and mail it in, that was a war, and I expect Michigan to play hard, but I also don’t think this Mullen UF team is going to roll over and lay down for them either, like those McElwain teams did.

        It’s going to be interesting to see how Michigan reacts when both teams have played a couple of series and UF punches them in the mouth a hell of a lot harder than we did in last year’s season opener.

        If Michigan wants to win this game, they better pack a really big lunch because I think Florida is going to come to play spitting nails and blood in their mouths.

  4. Win the line of scrimmage, win the game. All the schemes in the world mean nothing if you don’t win in the trenches! I have a feeling Michigan will be very surprised by how much better our offensive line is since last year.

    As for let down, of course. They thought they were going to beat OSU, win the Big Ten and get into the playoffs. So, that is a challenge for them to get over their shattered expectations and deal with the reality that they got beaten to a pulp by Ohio State and lost out on all their dreams. Too bad for them. Maybe good for us. We’ll see.

    • Jaws, what you said is absolute fact. However, to turn this game into something other than a boring, 60-minute trench war ending 13-10, will require for Franks to do something he’s shown to be very reluctant to do this season. He will have to FREQUENTLY throw successfully over the middle of the field.

      OSU heavily exploited a Michigan weakness with safeties covering receivers on crossing patterns over the middle of the field. We have the receiver speed to do the same. With injuries depleting their secondary, Michigan will be susceptible to those types of passes in this game too.

      Crossing patterns are a staple of the Meyer/Mullen offense, but all that traffic over the middle of the field seems to “confuse” Franks. He holds onto the ball much too long and throws inaccurately. That allows beaten safeties to recover. So, Mullen minimized the number of times such pass plays got called this season, which made the Gator O much easier to defend.

      If they want to make short work of Michigan, Mullen and Franks will have to make liberal use of crossing patterns and throws to the TEs over the middle. Here’s to hoping they practice that A LOT. Just praying that, come game time, Franks throws the ball to guys in orange and blue and completes most of those passes.

      Go Gators!!!

      • Actually, no he he won’t have to attack the middle of the field as much, at least nowhere as much as you think he will have to.

        The PRIMARY way to attack the Michigan defense will be to render their DL in-effective by attacking the perimeter a lot, forcing their LB’s off the LOS and making them, and their DB’s, play the edge a lot more. That, in turn, will open up the intermediate passing game and the occasional deep route over the middle. The vertical passing game does not have to be the primary means of attacking Michigan. As a matter of fact, with their secondary, it would be sort of foolish to go after them with a lot of vertical passes.

        McElwain and Nussmeier tried this twice and both times, we got shut down and routed.

        Our game-plan since the USCe game has been the same one I’ve been saying we need to run… Run the hurry-up, run the ball, attack the edge, use a lot of safe, high percentage passes like screens and slants and bubbles and swing passes. Keep using Toney everywhere on the field.

        It’s worked for three games now and we’ve averaged over 500 ypg, so lets stick to what works best.

        • Todd, the last 3 games the Gators played against weak or nonexistent defenses. That’s not what we face in Michigan. They have a very salty, speedy, well coached defense.

          I didn’t mentioned a vertical passing game in my post (although a few long passes are necessary too.) That isn’t what crossing patterns are. Crossing receivers criss-cross each other over the middle of the field, underneath the coverage, just 5 to 10 yards beyond the LOS. They serve two objectives:

          1. To exploit the middle of the field vacated by LBs and safeties drawn to the perimeter by the very plays you mentioned above, forcing the D cover the WHOLE field.

          2. To get DBs in man coverage to run into each other, creating an opportunity for an explosive play by a speedy WR with YAC 5 to 10 yards downfield.

          If all the Gators do is run to the perimeter and throw bubble screens, Michigan will shut us down the way they did in Dallas last season.

          Maybe, Mullen can teach Franks in bowl practices how to QUICKLY make the proper reads on the LBs and safeties at the LOS and how to QUICKLY hit his crossing receivers with passes over the middle that they don’t have to reach back for.

          I’m just not very optimistic Franks will learn. His brain just doesn’t work that fast. The crossing pattern is a staple of every good O and Franks has failed to get it right after 3 years of practice!

          Go Gators!!!

  5. OSU provided the blue print. Mullen’s and Meyer’s offenses are from the same roots. I’m not sure if Florida has the same athletes to run it, but it will be a lot better than what we saw last year. It’s a great test. I see Michigan coming in flat emotionally. I see Florida hungry for more success. Bowl games are funny in that the best team on paper doesn’t always win. I like Florida to rid themselves of the Michigan Monkey.