ATLANTA — As No. 10 Florida celebrated its 41-15 dismantling of No. 8 Michigan in Saturday's Peach Bowl, offensive tackle Martez Ivey blurted out the phrase Gators fans have been waiting almost a decade to hear.
It's too early to tell whether Florida (10-3) is really back, even after the Gators' first top-tier bowl win since the Sugar Bowl after the 2009 season. But the Gators are at least nationally relevant again after fixing the three glaring problems Michigan exposed in their past two meetings — which UF lost by a combined 50 points.
Michigan dominated the line of scrimmage in the January 2016 Citrus Bowl and their 2017 season opener. The Wolverines had the edge in sacks (8-5) and yards per rush (4.6-2.4).
The Gators needed only two minutes to show that things were different this time. The Wolverines (10-3) had two chances to pick up 1 yard to extend its first drive. UF stuffed them both times.
"They were scared of us," defensive end Jachai Polite said.
They had a reason to be.
Polite and the Gators outsacked Michigan 5-3. They more than doubled the Wolverines' yards per rush (6.4-2.6). And UF's 257 rushing yards were the most the Wolverines had allowed in almost three full seasons.
Quarterback Feleipe Franks was in the middle of that rushing attack as part of the Gators' second big step forward: Better quarterbacking.
In the past two Michigan games, UF threw only one touchdown pass … and it was by a wide receiver. Franks played so poorly in the 2017 opener that coach Jim McElwain benched him in his first career start.
Fifteen months later, Franks was the offensive MVP of a prestigious New Year's Six bowl game.
His passing numbers (13-of-23 for 173 yards and a touchdown) don't show his full success Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He was UF's No. 2 rusher with 74 yards, including the 20-yard draw that gave the Gators the lead for good late in the first half.
But the redshirt sophomore's most impressive play came early in the fourth.
UF coach Dan Mullen said earlier this year that Franks probably wasn't ready for the start against Michigan last year. That can create long-term confidence issues that show up under duress — like the pass rush he faced on third and 6.
Franks stood firm, absorbed the hit and fired a 28-yard completion to tight end C'yontai Lewis that set another UF touchdown.
"I don't think at any point during the game we got conservative in what we were doing because we just trusted he'd make good decisions and get the win for us," Mullen said.
And that's because of the third major change from the last Michigan meetings. The coaching staff is vastly improved.
Before Mullen's arrival, Franks didn't think his confidence could get any lower. Now he's strong enough to make a big-time throw while getting drilled by one of the nation's best defenses.
The coaches have also put Franks and his teammates in position to make those winning plays.
"For the most part, they had us figured out," Wolverines defensive lineman Chase Winovich said.
It showed in two pivotal short-yardage moments.
Up 13-10 midway through the second half, UF called timeout to discuss its fourth-and-1 options. The obvious call was to rush it up the middle.
"That's typical, though," receiver Kadarius Toney said. "You've got to get around that edge."
Toney did, speeding for 30 yards on a jet sweep that led to a touchdown.
The other play came on UF's next possession. On third and goal, the Gators overloaded the left side by sending a tight end in motion but pitched the ball right to Jordan Scarlett for an easy score and a 17-point lead.
None of this is enough to prove that the Gators are indeed back. But by beating the big-name nemesis that had dominated the last two meetings, UF showed it's at least close to getting back to where it expects to be.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.