Upsetting end: Michigan 41, UF 35

Michigan's defense celebrates after sacking Florida's Tim Tebow during the second quarter.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 8:05 p.m.

ORLANDO The plan was to come to the Capital One Bowl, enjoy a nice afternoon and a big victory under the Florida sun, then dance happily into 2008 with a lot of momentum and national championship aspirations.

Instead, the Florida Gators find themselves limping into a new year seriously wounded. And with some serious questions.

Like, can anybody here play defense?

That has to be the most troubling uncertainty about the future after the way Michigan messed up Florida in the Wolverines' 41-35 victory before 69,748 fans in the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day.

"I am very disappointed in some of our performance," a dejected UF coach Urban Meyer said. "We have some glaring errors that need to be corrected real fast, personnel-wise and coaching-wise. I don't think we tackled very well and we certainly didn't cover very well.

"I'm very disappointed in the pass coverage. We have to do a lot better and we have to get some things corrected."

So much for opening 2008 on the right foot.

Instead, the Gators (9-4) woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

With a hangover.

A Heisman hangover.

An overall hangover.

Florida's defense simply had no answer for a balanced Michigan offense that was at full strength for one of the few times this season. With plenty of time to find holes in the UF defense, the Wolverines did. And they exploited every one.

"Some coverages were messed up a little bit," true freshman cornerback Joe Haden said. "And when they were, the quarterback (Chad Henne) did a great job of exploiting us."

Percy Harvin gave the Gators a chance to win the game with a 10-yard touchdown run with 5:49 left in the game. But Florida never really had a chance because the Gators had no chance of stopping Michigan. And that's exactly how the final minutes played out.

A little more than 90 seconds after UF went up 35-31, the Wolverines were back on top with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Henne to a wide-open Adrian Arrington. Heisman-winner Tim Tebow and the Florida offense fizzled on the ensuing drive, failing to convert a fourth-and-6 from the UF 24, allowing Michigan to kick a field goal for a 41-35 lead with only 2:21 to play.

The Gators still had plenty of time to launch a possible winning drive, but UF had no offense to speak of, going a quick four-and-out against the blitzing Wolverines.

Michigan had monster performances all over the place on offense. Arrington caught nine passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns, Henne threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns and tailback Mike Hart rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

It all added up to Michigan coach Lloyd Carr ending his career with a sweet victory.

"After the first drive of the game (that saw UM march 93 yards for a touchdown), I told our guys only we could stop ourselves, which we did a number of times," Carr said.

They didn't stop themselves enough to allow the Gators to snatch the victory.

Even though UF piled up 35 points and 399 total yards on only 66 plays, the Gators didn't have the firepower to keep up in a shootout.

Tebow was pressured, harried and sacked into his worst performance of the season. He threw for only 154 yards and the offense converted only two third-down plays out of 11.

It was a very un-Heisman-like day for Tebow.

"I don't think more so than any other teams this year," Tebow said when asked if Michigan had gotten after him harder and hit him harder than any other team during the season. "They were playing hard and physical, but not anything different than I have already experienced this year.

"We just have to work harder and use this as motivation."

Trailing 21-14 at the half, the Gators put themselves in a deeper hole in the opening seconds of the third quarter when UF failed to field a sky kick on the kickoff and Michigan recovered. It took UM only seven plays to find the end zone (on a Hart run) for a 28-14 lead.

For the rest of the game, the Wolverines were flying up and down the field and would have put things away early in the fourth quarter if not for mistakes and turnovers.

"We had a lot of great matchups there and our offensive line did a great job," Henne said. "It was an amazing feeling to send Coach Carr out in the right way. He deserves it so much."

The Gators probably got what they deserved, too, Tuesday a painful loss brought on by a sporadic offense and an almost inept defense.

It's not the way Florida wanted to head into the offseason.

"We weren't getting to the quarterback and contesting throws," Meyer said. "That's something we have to do a lot better.

"On offense we also had some errors protection-wise and we didn't throw the ball very well. We've got to coach better."

And, obviously, play better defense.

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