Top defenses of Michigan, Florida meet in Citrus Bowl

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Florida (10-3) vs. Michigan (9-3)
Orlando, Florida
Jan. 1, 2016

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Michigan and Florida both had resurgent seasons with new coaches in 2015 and did so mainly with stout defensive play.

Michigan certainly improved on offense in its first season under Jim Harbaugh, but D.J. Durkin’s defense carried the torch. The Wolverines are fourth nationally in total defense, giving up an average of 281.3 yards per game. The Wolverines are also third in passing yards allowed and 18th nationally against the run.

The performance of Durkin’s defense led to him accepting the head coaching position at Maryland. In his place, defensive line coach Greg Mattison will run the defense on Friday.

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And while most remember the early season stretch where the defense allowed a total of 14 points over five games, the Wolverines had some struggles down the stretch, giving up 41 points in an overtime win over Indiana, 42 in a blowout loss to rival Ohio State and 461 yards in a three-point win over offensively-challenged Minnesota.

So it wasn’t all good for the Wolverines defensively, but Florida’s offense really shouldn’t present much of a challenge. The Gators, in year one under Jim McElwain, were steadily improving with Will Grier at quarterback and opened the season 6-0. But Grier was abruptly suspended for violating the NCAA’s policy on performance enhancing drugs, so Treon Harris, who had been competing with Grier for the starting role, was forced into duty.

Harris helped the Gators lock up the SEC East, but things went south quickly. UF averaged just over 231 yards over its final three games – an overtime win over lowly Florida Atlantic, a 27-2 loss to Florida State, and a 29-15 SEC title game loss to Alabama.

Florida running back Kelvin Taylor. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
Florida running back Kelvin Taylor. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

The Gators’ top two offensive weapons, running back Kelvin Taylor and wideout Demarcus Robinson, have already announced their intent to forgo their final season for the NFL, so maybe those two will be motivated to help the Gators move the ball.

Like Michigan, Florida’s defense is its clear strength. The Gators are No. 6 overall in the country in total defense, giving up 295.4 yards per game. Senior Jonathan Bullard had a big year for the Gators with 63 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks while senior linebacker Antonio Morrison led the team with 97 tackles and pitched in 12 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

Bullard and company will have the task of getting pressure in the face of Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock, who had a nice season after transferring over from Iowa. Rudock threw for 2,739 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He developed a nice camaraderie with a trio of receivers – Amara Darboh (56 catches, 703 yards, 5 TDs), Jehu Chesson (45 catches, 646 yards, 8 TDs) and tight end Jake Butt (48 catches, 620 yards, 3 TDs) – while De’Veon Smith (644 yards, 6 TDs) led the ground attack.

With both teams coming off losses – Michigan to Ohio State and Florida to Alabama – a Citrus Bowl win would be a nice way to finish off the year.


Graham: Unless Florida groomed a new quarterback in the month since the SEC title game, I have a hard time seeing the Florida offense having much success against the Michigan defense. Michigan 31, Florida 13.

Nick: Perhaps the scoring format for this game should be changed. Each team gets a point when it forces the other to punt. That could lead to a higher-scoring game than in the traditional scoring system. Michigan 20, Florida 10.

Sam: There's no reason to have confidence in Florida with Harris at quarterback. Maybe he'll prove me wrong after having a month to prepare, but this looks like a UM win. Michigan wins this rock fight, 23-14.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!