University of Florida

Peach Bowl victory would be a great finish to season for first-year Gators coach Mullen

Florida coach Dan Mullen and his Gators will take on Michigan on Saturday.
Florida coach Dan Mullen and his Gators will take on Michigan on Saturday. TNS

The Florida Gators aren’t quite done yet.

First-year coach Dan Mullen led the team to a 9-3 regular-season record and a top-10 national ranking. And a Bowl Game victory would be a great way to finish the year.

The No. 10 Florida and No. 7 Michigan will play at Mercedes Benz Stadium in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Saturday at noon.

The Gators have never beaten the Wolverines — Michigan is 4-0 all time. The last time they faced, the Wolverines handed the Gators a 33-17 loss. But despite their history, the Gators have no interest in making the Peach Bowl about redemption.

“We have a totally different coaching staff,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “New players have come in and out. It’s a totally different program and team now … I don’t think it has anything to do with last season or anything like that. It’s mainly to do with this year and what our program has been able to accomplish.”

And the Gators have made it clear that this game isn’t about anyone or anything outside their program.

“No matter who we line up against, it’s always going to be about us and us taking care of our business, again,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said, “especially in bowl games.”

Franks and the Gators’ offense will face a Wolverines pass defense that only gave up 145.9 yards during the regular season.

Franks played against four top-30 defenses this season in Mississippi State (No. 3), Georgia (No. 13), Kentucky (No. 21) and LSU (No. 29). And he averaged 179 passing yards against those teams. He did seem to get better with each of the team’s last three games of the regular season with his best performance coming against Florida State. He completed 61.5 percent of his passes and threw for three touchdowns.

But he’ll face a fast and experienced Michigan defense with a pass rush that is among the best at getting to the quarterback.

Though the Wolverines are one of the toughest teams in the country to throw against, they gave up 249 rushing yards in their last game against Ohio State, and they surrendered points 92 percent of the time when they allowed opponents to get into the red zone this season.

That bodes well for a Florida offense that scores in the red zone 82 percent of the time.

Michigan will also be without two of its best players on the defensive front: defensive end Rashan Gary, who is fourth on the team in sacks and second in quarterback hurries, and linebacker Devin Bush, who leads the team in tackles and is second in sacks. Both of them will sit out to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Florida, however, boasts a 10th-ranked pass defense and one of the best edge rushers in the country in defensive end Jachai Polite, who will suit up in Atlanta. Michigan’s offense, which depends on the run, will be without leading rusher Karan Higdon, who is also sitting out.

“I think that we could have easily been a college football playoff team,” Franks said. “We have the talent and we have the coaching for us to be there.”

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