There was a moment, after C.J. Henderson’s pick-six — the second in the span of minutes for the Florida Gators, and the one by one of the young and precocious defenders who will be asked to make that defense ferocious — when it felt like Florida might actually beat Michigan.
Just a moment, though.
The rest of the game, won 33-17 by the Wolverines, made plain just how far removed Florida was on this Saturday from the rarefied air college football’s elite teams breathe.
Michigan ran for 215 yards, 114 from the bruising Ty Isaac and 78 from Chris Evans, and got 181 more through the air from Wilton Speight, who dinked and dunked around the outskirts of a Florida defense that busted big and wore down. The Wolverines leaned on the Gators for all four quarters, dominating everywhere but in the red zone and for every moment but the ones between Speight’s pick-sixes and the ones of Florida’s opening drive — which got one first down from a penalty on a Tyrie Cleveland end-around and another from a dime by Feleipe Franks to Josh Hammond, but just three points from Eddy Piñeiro at its end.
That was effectively the end of Florida’s offensive efficacy on the day. The Gators threw for 181 yards, but most of Malik Zaire’s 106 came on empty-calorie throws with under a minute to play and a 16-point deficit on the board, and Franks’s 75 weren’t enough to keep him from exiting the game after a fumble on a scramble in the third quarter. Florida running backs combined for 29 rushing yards — the same total Zaire lost, including sacks. Cleveland’s four catches (for 56 yards) led Florida, as did Hammond’s 71 yards, but there was nothing approaching a rhythm on the day.
And so Florida’s offense found itself trudging off the field time and again, abandoning a defense that fought gamely to keep the score close enough to allow the faint hope of a revival of the Gators’ punchless attack to flicker.
On the penultimate offensive drive of the game, Zaire fumbled on consecutive plays, the ball trickling out of his arms into a Michigan defender’s for a touchdown on the second one.
The flame of hope went out.
And the Gators will have many, many questions to answer before their next time out on a field.