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Michigan dismantles Florida in Citrus Bowl

Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris (3) is tackled by Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Willie Henry (69) on a quarterback keep in the second quarter of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl between the Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016.
Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris (3) is tackled by Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Willie Henry (69) on a quarterback keep in the second quarter of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl between the Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016.
Published Jan. 2, 2016

ORLANDO — Florida coach Jim McElwain was left searching for words after Friday's 41-7 Citrus Bowl loss to Michigan.

"I really think they out-physicaled us," McElwain said. "I don't know what else you want me to say."

There was nothing else he could say. His team's result spoke for themselves.

No. 19 UF (10-4) ended a turnaround season with a three-game losing streak that culminated in the Gators' worst defeat since a 62-24 throttling by Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

The offense failed to capitalize on early scoring chances and couldn't generate anything at all late. Only the final buzzer and Michigan's mercy kept a mediocre Wolverines offense from scoring on its final seven drives against a defense regarded as one of the best in the country.

"We just didn't have it today," center Trip Thurman said. "They took it to us."

Especially up front.

Florida showed flashes of offensive success early, reaching the red zone on three of its first four drives. But No. 17 Michigan (10-3) held the Gators to one score, on a trick toss by receiver Antonio Callaway to quarterback Treon Harris. The other drives ended with interceptions — one on a botched fake field goal and another when Harris forced a throw into double coverage.

Harris' sixth interception in the past six games derailed an offense that has struggled to get on track most of the season. The Gators amassed 195 yards on 32 plays before Harris' turnover in the end zone; after it, they recorded 78 on 20 plays.

A young offensive line that started three true freshmen and a sophomore began to crack. Harris missed on 13 of his 21 throws and failed to complete a pass in the second half. UF's final eight carries netted only 21 yards.

"The game is defined by your front guys," McElwain said. "Their front guys got the better of us."

The same thing happened defensively, as the Wolverines picked apart a defense that carried Florida to the SEC title game.

Michigan found openings to tight ends over the middle, in front of an announced crowd of 63,113. Receiver Jehu Chesson burned All-America cornerback Vernon Hargreaves on a double move for one of Jake Rudock's three touchdown passes.

UF was flagged for too many men on the field during one third-quarter defensive possession, then had only 10 defenders present when Michigan punched the ball in for a 2-yard touchdown on its next drive.

"Credit them, but I don't think they're that much better than us," cornerback Jalen Tabor said. "They just really had a better mind-set than we did.

"They took it to us start to finish."

And they did it by pounding the ball right into Florida's heart. Michigan's 225 rushing yards were 72 above the season average of a team that ranked No. 92 nationally in that statistic.

The Wolverines averaged 4.9 yards per carry — more than Florida State and Alabama did in the other two parts of Florida's season-ending losing streak. Their 503 yards of offense were the most the Gators allowed this season.

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"I was a little surprised," McElwain said. "No doubt about it."

Once the shock wore off, Florida still couldn't find an answer to Michigan's dominance on the line of scrimmage.

The Gators failed to record a sack for only the second time all season. Their three tackles for a loss were tied for their lowest total in the past two seasons. UF ran only 14 offensive plays in the final two quarters — and failed to gain a yard on nine of them.

"This was a case of getting your rump kicked in," McElwain said. "That's what it was."

And that's all he needed to say.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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