Jim McElwain tried to stay positive.
He tried to look towards the future.
But eventually, Florida’s folksy coach had simply run out of sound bites and could only muster short sentences.
“They took it to us. I'm disappointed, McElwain said, after the Gators suffered their worst loss in 20 years in a 41-7 beatdown at the hands of the No. 17 Michigan Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl.
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“It was a case of getting your rump kicked in. That's what it was.”
The New Year’s Day matchup was billed as a showdown between two dominant defenses and a pair of premier, resurgent programs with first-year coaches, but then only Michigan showed up.
Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines, now 10-3, dismantled the Gators on both sides of the ball, scoring on six straight possessions at one point and rolling up 503 yards -- the most Florida’s defense allowed all season. Former St. Thomas Aquinas star quarterback Jake Rudock continued his superb senior season, carving up Florida’s vaunted secondary for three touchdowns and 278 yards -- a Wolverines record fifth-straight game over 250 yards.
It was a frustrating finish for Florida, concluding a brutal final six weeks to an otherwise promising season. The Gators (10-4) enter the offseason on a three-game losing streak -- all blowout losses to ranked teams (Florida State, Alabama and Michigan) -- and with plenty of questions.
Their normally stout defense was completely overmatched physically, while their offense showed some brief promise before succumbing to its usual ineffectiveness.
“Credit Coach Harbaugh,” Florida corner Jalen Tabor said.
“His offensive system is tremendous. That’s why he was a head coach in the NFL. … They had a pretty good scheme.”
Michigan marched down the field on its opening drive, as tailbacks DeVon Smith and Drake Johnson combined for 55 rushing yards and an early 7-0 lead.
But UF answered immediately, scoring a brilliantly designed trick play to tie the game.
Facing 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line, quarterback Treon Harris caught an underhand shovel pass from dynamic wideout Antonio Callaway on a direct-snap, double reverse.
The trickeration briefly breathed life and energy into UF, too.
Only it didn’t last.
Harris’ touchdown would be Florida’s lone highlight on an otherwise dreadful New Year’s Day.
All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves had a brutal final game in a Gators uniform, getting torched twice on double-moves including a 31-yard touchdown by wideout Jehu Chesson.
Michigan took a 17-7 lead into halftime and then really put the pedal to the metal. The Wolverines scored touchdowns on three straight second-half possessions, while the Gators gained a measly two yards in the third quarter and Harris didn’t complete a pass.
“It was a little surprising,” McElwain said of Florida’s defensive letdown.
“I thought their quarterback did a great job in the play action game.”
Meanwhile, UF’s quarterback, likely starting for the last time for Florida, was actually sharp to start the game, but several poor snaps and two ghastly drops seemed to ruin any positive momentum for the struggling sophomore.
In a tie game in the first half, backup tight end DeAndre Goolsby had a perfect 40-yard pass fall through his fingers and with it all of Florida’s hope.
Harris quickly unraveled, throwing an interception in the end zone on the very next possession. The former Booker T. Washington product rushed for 55 yards but finished the day just 8 of 21 for 146 yards.
THIS AND THAT
UF senior tight end Jake McGee, a graduate transfer from Virginia and the team’s third-leading receiver, was set to play in his first-career bowl game but was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Junior linebacker Jarrad Davis exited the game with a concussion. Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, an All-American and former five-star recruit, did not play due to a hand injury. … Florida started three true freshmen offensive linemen for the first time all season. … Callaway set the school record for most receiving yards by a true freshman with 678. … Junior tailback Kelvin Taylor rushed for 53 yards, becoming only the ninth player in school history with a 1,000-yard season. … Florida is 0-3 against Michigan all-time.