ORLANDO, Fla. – Someone forgot to tell Michigan that this was supposed to be a struggle between defenses.
Jake Rudock shrugged off an injury and threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns as No. 17 Michigan’s offense overwhelmed No. 19 Florida on Friday in the Citrus Bowl.
“I would say this was the best game we’ve played all year,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen our offense play better. Our defense was magnificent. … The three and outs, the stops, the play on third down, everybody playing great team defense. It was really good.”
Thus ended a rousing first season in Ann Arbor for Harbaugh, who was fired by 49ers CEO Jed York after the 2014 season.
There were some questions surrounding how effective Rudock would be after being knocked out of Michigan’s regular-season finale against Ohio State with a left shoulder injury. He dismissed any notions about his health almost immediately in the Wolverines’ first bowl victory since 2012.
Michigan (10-3) had three touchdown drives of at least 70 yards and finished with 503 yards of offense against a Florida defense that entered the game ranked sixth nationally.
Rudock credited the coaching staff’s game plan and scouting efforts with putting him and his teammates in optimum situations.
“We understood how they played – they play fast and they play physical,” Rudock said. “I had an easy job. I just had to get it out there to them.”
He also had lots of support on the ground from tailback De’Veon Smith, who finished with 109 yards rushing and two scores.
“We just came out there and competed today. It just shows that hard work pays off,” Smith said.
Leading by 10 at the half, Michigan scored on each of its first two possessions in the third quarter to take a 31-7 lead.
Michigan’s defense played without safety Jabrill Peppers, who sat out with an undisclosed injury. But the Wolverines didn’t miss him, holding the Gators (10-4) to 28 total yards in the second half.
“It was a case of getting your rump kicked in. That’s’ what it was,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “They really took it to us on both sides of the ball.”
Florida quarterback Treon Harris had his moments early. But he also had a costly interception in the end zone late in the first half that stifled the Gators’ attempt to stay in the game.
Michigan took a 17-7 lead into halftime thanks largely to the efficiency of the Wolverines passing attack.
Michigan’s receivers did a great job creating lanes for Rudock to throw to, and ran crisp routes to open up deep-play opportunities.
The best example was on Rudock’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Jehu Chesson early in the second quarter that put Michigan up 14-7. Chesson used a double move, initially faking an inside slant, to strand and separate from cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.
Despite some unsteady outings to end the regular season, Harris managed the Gators’ offense well for most of the first half.
Florida seemed poised to keep pace early on, tying the game at 7 in the first quarter with an efficient eight-play, 75-yard drive. The series was capped with a fake reverse pass from receiver Antonio Callaway to Harris.
But on the series following Chesson’s touchdown, Harris made a poor decision while getting chased toward the sideline, tossing a third-down pass from just outside the red zone into a crowded end zone. The pass was intercepted by Jarrod Wilson.
The Wolverines drove down on the next series and added a field goal to extend their lead to 10.
“I’m just really excited about what we were able to do,” Rudock said. “Ten wins is no small feat in college football. It’s very difficult to get there. I’m just so thankful and grateful we were able to get there as a team.”