Wolverines Use Second Half Momentum to Earn Victory Over Gators

(Photo Credit: Craig Balog /
Written by Ryan Musich
Arlington, TX – Deep in the Heart of Texas in Arlington, Texas, two top 25 teams went to war. As #11 Michigan went head to head against #17 Florida to open the 2017-2018 College Football season. Michigan, having come off a year where they felt they got snubbed by the playoff committee and Florida coming off of an underwhelming season under 2nd-year coach Jim McElwain. Florida would be without 10 players in this game because of “misusing school-issued funds.”

Florida would receive the kickoff and Wide Receiver Tyrie Cleveland would quickly down it in the end zone for a touchback. The first play of the game for Florida would result in the first penalty of the game, as Michigan would be called for a late hit on the ball carrier. Michigan linebacker Devin Bush would be the player penalized for the Wolverines.

The early action would not stop there, as on the next play Red Shirt Freshmen Quarterback Felipe Franks for Florida would hook up with Wide Receiver Josh Hammond on a deep ball down the sideline. The play would go for 34 yards. On the next play, Franks would fumble the snap but quickly fall on it. After some stout defensive play from the Wolverines, the Gators would settle for three points as kicker Eddy Pineiro would knock through a 46-yard field goal. Florida’s first drive of the season would be a 6 play 46-yard drive.

Quarterback Wilton Speight would lead Michigan’s offense out for their first drive of the season. Michigan had a few of their key offensive players back this season as Speight and Running Backs Chris Evans and Ty Issac highlight what is projected to be a high powered offense this season under Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Michigan moved the ball into the red zone with ease on their first drive but it stalled after what seemed like a touchdown pass, was called back as the Wolverines were flagged for an ineligible receiver. Michigan kicked a field goal and tied the game. The drive was a 14 play 68-yard drive.

Florida’s next drive would stall out fast. After an incomplete pass and a 2-yard screen pass, Franks got swallowed up by Wolverines linebacker Devin Bush for a sack and a loss of 4 yards. Michigan’s next drive was highlighted by a hand off up the middle to Evans, who broke it to the outside for a gain of 29 yards. This gave Michigan the ball in Gator territory. The next play was the play of the first half, as Speight connected with freshman wide receiver Tarik Black on a play action pass that resulted in the Wolverines first touchdown of the season. The play went for 46-yards and put the Michigan Wolverines up 10-3. The drive was a 3 play, 75-yard drive.

Florida started the next drive at their own 25-yard line. It did not start well for Florida as on the first play Franks tripped over his own feet for a seven yard loss. On 3rd and long, Franks scrambled for 16 yards and earned the first down for the Gators. At the end of the 1st quarter, Michigan was on top 10-3. Defense would highlight the first quarter. The only blemish on either side was the 46-yard touchdown pass by Speight.

Florida started the second quarter by going three and out. After it seemed like Michigan was crafting a solid drive, Speight would try a deep post route over the middle, but the ball was tipped by the Wolverine receiver and was intercepted by Florida defensive back Duke Dawson. Dawson returned it 48 yards for a touchdown. After the extra point, the game was tied at 10-10.

Michigan’s next possession resulted in another interception by a Florida defender. This time, cornerback CJ Henderson intercepted it and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown. That was back to back possessions for the Wolverines that resulted in defensive touchdowns for the Gators. The touchdown would put Florida on top 17-10.

Michigan’s next drive did not involve Speight as Harbaugh benched him. The new quarterback for the Wolverines was University of Houston transfer John O’ Korn. Anew quarterback did not change anything as Michigan went three and out. You could tell that the momentum was clearly on the side of the Gators. Even on 4th down, Florida was able to bust through the line and get a hand on the punt, resulting in a 12-yard punt. Florida took over in Wolverine territory.

It was a quick series for the Gators as they were forced to punt. Michigan would come back on their next possession and knock through a 55 field goal to pull a little closer as the score would be 17-13 Florida. After a drive that resulted in another punt, Michigan put Speight back under center to run the first half clock out. The score at halftime was 17-13, with Gators on top.

The story of the first half was defense. Out of the 30 total points scored, only one offensive touchdown was scored. There were two defensive touchdowns. Both scored by Florida. Four sacks in the first half combined by both teams as well. Florida also only had 91 yards of total offense in the first half.

Michigan’s offense came out of the half looking like a well-oiled machine. Speight was back on the field and came out looking like a new player. Speight’s passes were a lot more accurate and had a lot more zip on them as well. The Wolverines had a 10 play, 75-yard drive capped off by running back Karan Higdon’s three yard touchdown run. The touchdown & extra point put Michigan back out front for good.

On the kickoff, Florida ended up fumbling the ball, giving Michigan back possession. Michigan wouldn’t do much with it as they ended up with just a field goal, extending their lead 23-17. Next drive for Florida resulted in another fumble as Bush recovered a fumble by Franks.

Halfway through the 3rd quarter, Notre Dame transfer quarterback Malik Zaire into the ball game to try and get some movement on the offensive side of the ball. Zaire’s first possession did not go well as Florida again, went three and out. Zaire did start to get the Florida offense performing a bit better as the 3rd quarter came to an end. The opening quarter of the 2nd half definitely belonged the the Wolverines as Michigan led 26-17 after three quarters.

On the first play of the 4th quarter, Zaire was sacked and Florida was forced to punt. Michigan got the ball back and Isaac opened the drive with a 22-yard run. Michigan ended up missing a 52-yard field goal but that wouldn’t end up hurting them as the Michigan defense started to tee off on Zaire. The Florida offense was unable to do anything the entire 4th quarter.

When Michigan got the ball back, the ball moved down the field. The drive was highlighted by a 48-yard pass downfield by Speight to Nick Eubanks. Kicker Quinn Nordin could not extend the lead as he missed a 32-yard field goal wide right.

The teams would trade three and outs the rest of the way and Michigan would take this one 33-17 after a Michigan defensive touchdown. This game would have been a blow out without Florida’s two interceptions for touchdowns. It was an absolutely dominant 2nd half from the Wolverines. Michigan’s pass rush was also a problem for Florida the entire night as Florida’s quarterback rarely had time to throw and if they did, they had to throw it quickly.

After the game, Coach John Harbaugh had a few interesting things to say. He mentioned that he showed his team a letter last night to motivate them. The letter was written by a military soldier that had served in a team full of 18-year-olds and that team had won a battle that they had faced. The reason for the reading of the letter was to help motivate his team of 18-year-olds. Harbaugh also acknowledged how well his Offensive and Defensive Lines played as well.

In the end, this was a tough physical game on both sides but Michigan’s offense was able to put them over the top and win the game. Next week, Michigan returns home to the Big House to face off against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.

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