GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida football team began prep this week for its Citrus Bowl matchup with Michigan on Jan. 1.
The Wolverines opened as 4-point favorite over UF, which is currently on a two-game losing streak and needed overtime in its last win to beat Florida Atlantic.
The Gators overachieved in 2015 with a 10-3 record and SEC East title, but their team weaknesses were apparent by the end of November and cost them against better opponents.
Things won’t get any easier when they play Michigan. For Florida to bounce back in the bowl game and finish the season on a winning note, these three things have to happen.
Big day from Kelvin Taylor
The junior running back, who has decided to turn pro, was one of few bright spots in Florida’s offense during November. He reeled off three consecutive 100-yard performances, including 136 in his last home game against Florida State. But the SEC Championship did not go his way. UF coach Jim McElwain went away from the run game with Alabama dominating the line of scrimmage, and Taylor had just seven carries for eight yards. That can’t be the case against Michigan, which has the nation’s No. 3 pass defense. The Wolverines will likely make it difficult on Gators quarterback Treon Harris, so McElwain must be able to rely on Taylor.
Win the “Money Down” on offense
One big emphasis from Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is winning on third down, a.k.a. the “Money Down.” To drive that home, Collins even has two student assistants every game who jump up and down holding posters with dollar signs. The Gators’ defense has been able to get teams off the field on third down, but they’ve had trouble staying on it offensively. UF ranks 103rd nationally in third-down conversions, while the Michigan defense ranks No. 3 in opponent conversions. With the makeup of UF’s offensive personnel, McElwain has said all season that winning time of possession is a key factor for his unit. The offense has to be better at converting third downs against the Wolverines to keep the game clock in Florida’s favor.
Rattle QB Jake Rudock early and often
The UF defense will be the toughest Michigan has faced all year, and priority No. 1 for the Gators is getting to quarterback Jake Rudock. The Wolverines offense runs through him, and the senior signal caller has been one of the most efficient and productive passers in the Big 10 this season. Rudock leads the league in completion percentage (64.0). Florida, which ranks No. 3 nationally in sacks (40), cannot allow Rudock to get into rhythm. Look for Collins to put pressure on him with his pass rush and blitz packages. UF’s secondary, which has the SEC’s third-most interceptions and passes defended, also needs to assert itself to make Rudock uncomfortable in the pocket.