Florida had three players declare for the NFL Draft prior to its game against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, but you would have thought they were already gone.
Kelvin Taylor, Vernon Hargreaves III and Demarcus Robinson had all announced their intention to enter the 2016 draft. And in the game when the Gators needed them most, they did not deliver.
Michigan had the ball at the Florida 31 with the score tied at 7 in the second quarter. Wolverines receiver Jehu Chesson made a move to the inside, and Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock gave a simple pump fake.
Hargreaves bit hard.
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Chesson then extended his route up field and blew past Hargreaves. Rudock’s pass sailed over Hargreaves’ head and landed in the arms of Chesson, standing all by himself in the end zone.
“Their corners are really fast, really good players, but we felt we could get them in a double move,” said Rudock, the ex-Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas star who completed 20 of 31 passes for 278 yards and three scores. “Our coaches said ‘yeah, it’s gonna happen,’ and Chesson ran a great route. I just had to get it out there to him.”
The touchdown made it a 14-7 game and swung the momentum in the Wolverines’ favor. Michigan went on to outscore Florida 27-0 the rest of the way, and Hargreaves was replaced by Quincy Wilson on the next series.
“I would think he would be disappointed [with his final performance],” said teammate and fellow All-SEC cornerback Jalen Tabor. “You know everybody, it happens, but great corner, still the best corner. But sometimes teams use your aggression to their advantage. And that’s all it is, he’s just an aggressive corner and bit on the double move. It’s football.”
Hargreaves, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the nation’s best defensive back, returned with 6:21 left in the third quarter, looking for a little redemption.
He met the same fate.
Chesson again beat Hargreaves, this time on a 45-yard post route over the middle of the field, setting Michigan up at the Gators’ 10. Chesson ended up with five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Hargreaves wasn’t the only one to disappoint.
Taylor was looking to put an exclamation point on his three-year career, and he needed just 15 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the season. It took him eight carries to get there, and Taylor finished the game with just 53 yards.
Taylor had 41 yards on nine carries in the first half, including a 21-yard gain as UF attempted to run out the clock in the final seconds. Excluding that run, his longest of the day, Taylor averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in the first half.
That was against a Michigan defense that had been tailing off toward the end of the season. The Wolverines had given up 203 rushing yards per game in their previous five games, after giving up an average of only 65 yards rushing in their first seven.
Robinson, who led the team with 41 receptions coming in, had just one catch on Friday.
The three departing Gators will begin preparations for the draft, while UF coach Jim McElwain tries to figure out how to replace them.
“They’re going to be really hard to replace,” McElwain said. “Those are good football players, and more than that good people.”