ARLINGTON, Texas — This wasn’t about player suspensions.
It wasn’t about a quarterback competition that has gone on for more than a month and now seems more unsettled than ever.
It wasn’t about play-calling, or things said or unsaid, or a lack of effort and want to.
The sad fact, the humbling fact, is this was all about getting physically punished by an opponent that did the exact same thing to you less than two years ago in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
The Florida Gators weren’t man enough or tough enough to hang with Michigan again, getting pushed and shoved around AT&T Stadium with almost shameful ease in a 33-17 defeat Saturday in the Advocare Classic.
“Whooped” is the word of the day.
UF coach Jim McElwain used it early and often in a post-game news conference.
“First and foremost, they physically took it to us. Give them their due,” McElwain said. “They beat us every which way they could up front and we never had an answer. Our quarterbacks obviously didn’t play great. You usually don’t play great when you’re playing off your back foot, so we’ve got to do some things that way that’ll help.
“Disappointed in the lack of being able to run the football. Defense gave us opportunities. Wore down a little bit, but I still believe in this football team. I still believe in these guys. The (10 suspended) guys that weren’t here, that was a choice. That had no impact on the outcome of this game and we’ve got some ballgames ahead of us that we’ve got to get ready for.
“Plain and simple, take your whooping. I’m taking it.”
The biggest whooping came up front, in the match-up between the supposedly much improved Florida offensive line and the Michigan defense front.
McElwain has been referring to his line as a team strength for months. It may be months before he says that again, based on the performance Saturday.
The physically stronger (and obviously quicker) Michigan defensive front ran over, around and through the UF offensive line. By midway through the third quarter, it was obvious the Gators had no chance to run their offense effectively. Inept line play led to an impotent offense.
“Well, their guys (up front) were bigger and stronger,” McElwain said. “They whooped us. Plain and simple.”
McElwain tried to shake things up by taking out starting quarterback Feleipe Franks and inserting the more mobile Malik Zaire in the third quarter. But the results were pretty much the same. Both quarterbacks were running for their lives and taking all kind of hits — and the offense went nowhere.
The Gators went into the game with an offensive game plan based on an improved and more physical offensive line, McElwain said. But the line faltered badly and the game plan was completely blown up by the Michigan defensive front.
“When things go bad, we don’t point fingers at each other,” junior defensive end Cece Jefferson said. “They (the offensive line) knows what they have to get accomplished.”
The defense, despite playing four freshmen in its first series of the game, not only kept the Gators in the game, it actually gave them a 17-10 lead early in the second quarter on back-to-back interception returns for touchdowns by cornerbacks Duke Dawson and true freshman C.J. Henderson.
But Michigan physically took over the game after that, outscoring the Gators 23-0 the rest of the game.
The defense wore down and the offense got worse and worse in the decisive second half.
For the game, the offense produced only three points, 192 total yards, nine first downs and 11 yards rushing.
“It’s the creative piece,” McElwain said. “I thought we had a good plan, obviously. And then as it turned out, the plan was pretty well foiled by getting physically whooped by big, strong guys. That was disappointing.”
Part of the plan going in was to have the quarterback get the ball into the hands of the playmakers. But Franks and Zaire had no time to execute that plan.
Franks threw only nine passes, completing five for 75 yards, and lost a fumble on what would be his final play of the game. Zaire completed nine of 17 passes for 106 yards and was sacked five times, including one that led to a fumble in his own end zone that was recovered for a Michigan touchdown with only 1:37 left to play.
McElwain was asked if the competition at quarterback is wide open again.
“Nah,” he said. “You know what, we’ll sit down. We’ll take a look at it, and we’ll put a plan together for this next game and get a look at it.”
It was a bad loss for the Gators, but McElwain and his players aren’t about to give up on the season.
“We have no choice but to get better,” senior defensive end Jordan Sherit said. “All of our goals are still attainable.”
Saturday’s game makes it obvious that the offensive line is not a team strength. Not yet. And it takes time to adjust to that, McElwain said.
“We got to look at a lot of things,” he said. “And yet it’s not time to hit the panic button. We’ve got a good football team. We’ll come back and do the right thing and be OK.
“I think, you continue to challenge (the offensive linemen). I like those guys. They learned some lessons today, but we’ve got to give them an opportunity to be successful as well. It isn’t back to the drawing board. There’s some things that were there that didn’t get executed. And yet we’ve got to get back and execute these.”
Michigan executed well on both sides of the ball, especially in the opener with a young team that had some unknowns heading to the season like the Gators.
“We came out today just playing with a chip on our shoulder,” linebacker Devin Bush said. “This whole season, we’ve got something to prove.”
The Gators have a lot to prove after this disappointing first performance.