Capital One Bowl Preview

Dec. 31, 2007

Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
1 p.m. ET - ABC

Big Ten Bowl Trip: Capital One Bowl

MICHIGAN: Web | Roster | Stats
Florida: Web | Roster | Schedule | Stats

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Overall: Michigan, 1-0
Last Time Out: 2003 - Michigan, 38-30
Noteworthy: The first meeting between the two of the top national powerhouses occurred in the postseason in the 2003 Outback Bowl.

Michigan is looking to cap off Lloyd Carr's 13-year tenure in Ann Arbor with one last win before he retires. In the Wolverines' path is the defending BCS national champion Florida and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. The sophomore quarterback was not around the last time the two teams met in 2003, which Michigan won 38-30 in the Outback Bowl in what would prove to be the lone meeting between the two powerhouses up until this point. But Carr was, and he and his team, especially the seniors, know how special a victory over the No. 12 Gators would be. Michigan has lost four straight bowl games since the win over the Gators.

A year removed from winning the BCS national championship over Wolverine rival Ohio State, Florida failed to reach a BCS bowl this year due to a 1-3 midseason stretch. The Gators are 16-18 all-time in the postseason, but have a 6-3 advantage over Big Ten squads. Florida is making its 17-straight bowl appearance, which is a school record and the longest active steak among SEC teams. It's also the third-longest in the nation, behind Florida State (25) and Michigan (33). UF is looking for its third consecutive bowl win for the second time in history (1996-98), while head coach Urban Meyer could become the Gators' first coach to open his career in Gainesville with three straight bowl wins.

The Wolverines will be making their fourth appearance in the Capital One Bowl. Their three previous appearances came during a span of four years from 1999-2002. Michigan is 2-1 in the bowl game, having defeated Arkansas 45-31 in 1999, and Auburn 31-28 in 2001, before falling to Tennessee in 2002, 45-17.

Michigan's offense struggled to find consistency this season, but to the Wolverines' defense, they also struggled to stay healthy. Key offensive standouts Chad Henne and Mike Hart were both plagued by injuries this year, but both seniors have put forth impressive numbers throughout their respective careers. At quarterback, Henne has thrown for 84 touchdowns, 9,342 yards and completed 60 percent of his passes. Despite playing only nine games this season, Henne ranked 10th in Big Ten passing with 173.9 yards per outing with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Michigan ranked eighth in the conference in pass offense, averaging 207.4 yards per game. Regardless of his performance in the postseason, Henne will end his career rank fifth in Big Ten history in career yards. In the backfield, Hart played nine contests this season and managed a rushing average of 136.9, which ranks sixth in the country. He has gained 4,911 yards and 39 touchdowns in his career, including 12 scores this year. In his final season, he ran for over 1,200 yards and posted a career-best average of 5.3 yards per carry. Michigan's other weapon is wideout Mario Manningham, who ranked second in Big Ten receiving yards (99.6) and fourth in receptions (6.09) per game this year. His yardage total was also 11th-best in the country and he boasts a big-play average of 16.4 yards per catch.

That is good news for Michigan as Florida ranked dead last in the SEC this season in pass defense, allowing 7.0 yards per catch and 249.0 yards per game. The Gators' secondary also accounted for only nine interceptions, one more than the SEC low for the year. But as dismal as it was against the pass, Florida was the complete opposite in defending the run. The Gators ranked first in the conference and 10th in the nation, allowing just 99.3 rushing yards per game. While their opponents averaging 3.0 yards per rush, Florida swarmed to the pocket, having recorded 26 sacks on the year, which is fourth-best in the SEC. But when they get to the red zone, the Gators have allowed points 86.4 percent of the time, a percentage that was the third-highest in the conference. Sophomore linebacker Brandon Spikes finished second in the league with 9.8 tackles per game, while classmate Dustin Doe posted 6.2 stops per outing. Lineman Derrick Harvey and Jermaine Cunningham each had 6.5 sacks on the year, while Harvey and Spikes each totaled 14.0 tackles for loss.

Tebow, who was recently named the Associated Press Player of the Year, was a dual-threat for the Gators this season, becoming the first player in NCAA history to rush and pass for 20 or more touchdowns in a season. His 22 rushing scores were an SEC record for any player and it tied the NCAA record for quarterbacks. In the air, Tebow averaged 261.0 yards per game, throwing for 3,132 yards on 68.5 percent of his passes, 29 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He gained a school-record 3,970 yards and was the first underclassman to win the award since its inception in 1935. Even more of a rarity is the fact that Florida's second-leading rusher is a wide receiver. Sophomore Percy Harvin totaled just under 600 yards this season, averaging 8.6 a carry and topping the 100-yard plateau in two games this season. In the season finale against Florida State, Harvin ran for a career-high 157 yards. He also caught three TDs on the year and ranked third in the SEC with an average of 78.1 yards per outing. Senior Andre Caldwell was sixth at 72.1, while tight end Cornelius Ingram's caught a team-high seven touchdown passes from Tebow this year. Overall, UF boasted the conference's top scoring offense (43.1), total offense (462.0) and touchdowns (66), ranked second in passing (282.1) and third in rushing (197.7).

Again, it's good news for the Wolverines as they tied for seventh in the nation this year in pass defense, allowing just 179.7 yards per game. Michigan has the country's 24th-best total defense at 330.4 yards given up each game, which says a great deal considering the Maize and Blue gave up 73 points in their season-opening losses to Appalachian State and Oregon. Since that time, Michigan allowed an average of only 17 points while going 8-2 to end the season. The Wolverines did struggle against the run, with an average of 150.8 yards per game, which ranked eighth in the conference. But the main concern will be stopping Florida's passing and that is something Michigan has done well this year. Despite not having a Wolverine among the conference's top 10 in interceptions, U-M has boasted the league's second-best turnover margin at plus-6, which includes 29 takeaways - the highest total in the Big Ten this season. Senior lineman Shawn Crable was a monster this year with 26.5 tackles for loss, which was second in the nation, and four forced fumbles that ranked tied for sixth. Brandon Graham added 8.5 sacks for Michigan, followed by Crable's 7.5. Four Wolverines - Chris Graham (7.5), Crable (7.0), Jamar Adams (6.9) and Brandent Englemon (6.7) - rank among the conference's top-20 tacklers.

Besides stopping Tebow? With a potent Florida offense and its not-so-impressive secondary, Michigan will need to go to the air and win the passing battle in what has the potential on paper to be a promising shootout. Patience and discipline will be key for the Wolverines' secondary, making sure they don't leave their receivers too early when anticipating a Tebow run. If he doesn't get you on the ground, he'll get you through the air. He is a highly-accurate quarterback, but will now face a Michigan ballclub that is playing its best defense of the season. And while Tebow has vowed to be back next year, Michigan's Carr will not. All the more reason to win one for Lloyd and let the Wolverine seniors feel what it is like to win in the postseason.