I was resigned to defeat. I was sure my alma mater, University of Michigan, would lose by 20 points or more to the fast, option-running Florida Gators. I was so sure of certain defeat that as 1 pm. approached New Year's day, I told my friend to hurry up so we could get to the bar and watch at least part of the Capital One Bowl while it was still exciting and before Florida put up a big lead. Florida, ranked 9th in the country, was practically playing a home game in Orlando against my unranked Wolverines after all.
Much to my delight, Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, and crew did not leave Michigan's lead-footed defenders in their dust early and often. The teams played one of the most exciting bowl games of the year, with the maize and blue pulling out a 41 – 35 victory. Outgoing coach Lloyd Carr was lifted on the team's shoulders and got a W as a going away present. After five big ten championships and one national title, Carr is stepping aside for the innovative offense and younger blood of former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez.
At first I joined the TV analysts in calling this a win for Carr, a victory that the seniors (who had never won a bowl game) would do anything to get for their beloved coach. I submitted to the idea that it was a victory made from heart and desire more than superior talent.
But when I thought about the game and looked at the numbers, it was clear Florida had plenty of chances to win but let the game and a bowl win get away.
Michigan running back Mike Hart who had fumbled once in his entire collegiate career before Tuesday, fumbled twice on the goal line against Florida. In all, the Wolverines had four turnovers. Yet, despite all the talk of how Michigan had no chance of containing Tebow and Harvin, and how much better Florida (and the SEC) is athletically than Michigan (and the Big Ten), it was Carr's squad that imposed their will on the Gators in the end.
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They hit Tebow all day long, the UM offensive line, behind all-world tackle Jake Long, bullied the smaller Florida defensive front, and Michigan's wide receivers made big play after big play against the over matched Gator secondary. That outdated 3 yards and a cloud of dust offense that had people calling for Carr's head posted 41 points and 524 yards of total offense. Without the Michigan turnovers Florida would have suffered an even worse defeat.
Can we please stop hearing about how tough the SEC is now? Michigan is 6-1 in its last seven games against the SEC, and despite Florida's national title against Ohio State last year, they are 2-4 this decade against the Big Ten in bowl games.
This will most likely be remembered as a game that Michigan (especially seniors Long, Hart, and QB Chad Henne) won for their departing coach. More importantly, it proved one last time that the smash-mouth game of the Midwest can still hang with, and beat down, the speed and creativity of the Southeast. -- Tovin Lapan