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On the strength of a dominant defensive performance, the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines opened their season with a 33-17 win over the No. 17 Florida Gators at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.
Michigan surrendered just 192 total yards in the game, including 11 on the ground, and nine first downs. Also, the Wolverines didn’t allow Florida to score an offensive touchdown.
Both teams struggled in terms of quarterback play, but Michigan racked up 215 rushing yards as a team with senior running back Ty Isaac registering 114 yards on 11 carries.
Florida entered the game shorthanded, as 10 players were suspended, including starting running back Jordan Scarlett and star wide receiver Antonio Callaway, according to Kevin Spain of USA Today.
The lack of playmakers showed on offense for the Gators, as their quarterbacks were unable to sustain drives throughout the game.
Freshman Feleipe Franks started for Florida and finished with 75 yards on five of nine attempts. He was replaced by Malik Zaire early in the second half, and the senior ended the day with nine completions on 17 attempts for 106 yards. Neither threw a touchdown or an interception.
Wilton Speight played the entire game at quarterback for Michigan with the exception of John O’Korn entering for two series in the second quarter.
Michigan largely won in spite of Speight, as he completed 11 of 25 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns by Florida in the second quarter on back-to-back drives.
Despite his final line, Speight’s day actually got off to a strong start. He threw a touchdown to Kekoa Crawford on Michigan’s opening drive, but an ineligible-receiver-downfield penalty canceled it out, resulting in Michigan tying the game with a short field goal.
According to former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira, however, that was a botched call:
The ineligible downfield called against Michigan was incorrect. 80 and 7 were both in the backfield at the snap. TD should have stood.
Speight took the decision out of the officials’ hands on Michigan’s ensuing drive, as he gave the Wolverines their first lead on a quick strike.
As seen in this video courtesy of ESPN, Speight hooked up with highly touted freshman wide receiver Tarik Black for a 46-yard touchdown:
Speight finds the super frosh for a 46-yard strike and Michigan takes the lead vs. Florida. Don't miss a play on ABC or the ESPN app. https://t.co/oCFn9zu1bh
Things began to go south for Speight and the Michigan offense after that, though, as the next two drives resulted in touchdowns for the Florida defense.
The first came on a 48-yard pick-six by Florida defensive back Duke Dawson to tie the score at 10-10 after the extra-point.
Speight was the victim of the ball deflecting off his receiver’s hands, but on the ensuing drive, he overthrew his intended target, resulting in freshman cornerback CJ Henderson returning it 41 yards to the house to help put Florida on top 17-10:
Another one. https://t.co/0SIDkuDy7A
After the second straight pick-six, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi referenced how badly Speight was hurting his team:
Speight is the best O for Florida.
Michigan did manage to enter halftime trailing by just four points after freshman kicker Quinn Nordin nailed a 55-yard field goal.
The second half was all Michigan, as it played relatively mistake-free football and outscored Florida 20-0.
That was due largely to an impressive rushing attack, which ESPN’s Edward Aschoff referenced:
Florida's offense has been awful but you also can't overlook the fact that Michigan has run all over Florida's defense with relative ease
Karan Higdon gave Michigan the lead back early in the third quarter with a three-yard touchdown run, but it was Isaac who did most of the damage.
Per Scout.com’s Josh Henschke, the type of performance Isaac turned in Saturday has been a long time coming:
A motivated Ty Isaac is a good Ty Isaac. Coaches have been waiting for this since his arrival.
The second half was largely about Michigan’s defense, though, as it stymied Florida at nearly every turn.
That led to ESPN’s Booger McFarland questioning if offensive coaching changes may have to be made for the Gators moving forward:
At the start of year 3. At what point do we question Nussmeir as the OC at Florida ? #gators
To add insult to injury, Khaleke Hudson sacked Zaire in the end zone with less than two minutes remaining, and Noah Furbush recovered the fumble for a touchdown that put an exclamation point on Michigan’s win.
While Michigan has some issues on offense in its own right, especially at quarterback, it seemingly has a great chance to start 6-0 before a meeting with No. 6 Penn State.
Next week, the Wolverines will host the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Florida will look to work out the kinks next week against Northern Colorado before a huge SEC showdown with No. 25 Tennessee.