Wolverines spoil Gators bowl party

Published: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 4:42 p.m.

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 unranked Michigan messed up No. 9 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, a 10.5-point underdog. 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 Trophy-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.

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