PREVIEWING THE 2018 CHICK-FIL-A PEACH BOWL
Nico Collins (33) and 6-foot-8 tight end Zach Gentry (30)
consistently throughout the year. The trio averaged 15.4
yards per catch and combined for 15 touchdowns. Fouryear
letterman Grant Perry was fourth on the team in
receptions with 18 while back-up tight end Sean McKeon
snared 14. Sophomores Oliver Martin (11 catches) and
Tarik Black also are capable targets. Black, whose career
has been marked by injury, started his first three games as
a freshman in 2017 but missed the final 10 games of the
campaign and the first seven games of 2018. Florida fans
may remember his 46-yard touchdown grab in the 2017
opener between the two teams.
Michigan’s formidable front is buoyed by first-team All-Big
Ten offensive tackle Jon Runyan and second-team performer
Ben Bredeson at left guard. Center Cesar Ruiz, right guard
Michael Onwenu and right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty
earned third-team honors. The line limited opponents to 18
sacks on the season and the Wolverines were fourth in the nation in time of
possession, averaging nearly 35 minutes per game. UM also kept the chains
moving with FBS’ seventh-best third-down conversion percentage of .494.
The Gators will rely on first-team All-SEC junior defensive lineman Jachai
Polite and his active teammates to limit the Wolverines’ attack. Polite had
16.5 tackles-for-loss (TFL) including 11 sacks and forced five opponents’
fumbles. His compatriot on the defensive front, Jabari Zuniga, added 11 TFL,
6.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries. Zuniga played his high school ball at
Marietta’s Sprayberry H.S. Interior lineman Kyree Campbell made 10 starts
and made an impact with 34 tackles. Adam Shuler, a graduate transfer from
West Virginia, had eight solos and 29 assists in nine starts for the Gators.
Junior linebacker Vosean Joseph accumulated 30 solo tackles and 57
assists this season and stole the spotlight in Florida’s victory over LSU with
four solos, 10 assists and two sacks. Farmington, Michigan-native David
Reese II, who originally signed with Michigan before choosing Florida,
returned to the Gators lineup against Tennessee after missing the first three
games with an ankle sprain. Despite the missed time, Reese finished second
to Joseph in tackles with 74. Jeremiah Moon, a redshirt sophomore, led the
Gators in quarterback hurries with six.
Second-team All-SEC cornerback Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was third on
the team with 66 tackles, had nine TFL, picked off two passes and had seven
pass breakups. Donovan Stiner authored two picks and made 47 tackles, while
Jeawon Taylor offered solid run support with 19 solos and 37 assists. Hampton,
Georgia-native Trey Dean III, who was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team
added 22 tackles, six passes defended and an interception.
Florida made slight improvements on defense in several categories in
2018, but the most telling might have been turnovers, specifically fumbles.
In 2017, the Gators forced just six fumbles and recovered three. This season,
UF forced 15 fumbles and recovered 12, providing the Gators’ offense with
more opportunities and better field position. The Gators finished the season
plus-10 in turnover margin, the FBS’ 10th-best mark. Florida also finished
10th in passing yards surrendered (175 yards per game) and 21st in points
A Special Look at the Kicking Game
Will it be Florida’s Swain or Michigan’s Peoples-Jones that will make an
impact in the game? Swain, who returned 21 punts for 221 yards, had an
85-yard touchdown return versus Colorado State Peoples-Jones had 24
returns for 243 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown against Nebraska.
Florida has a slight statistical advantage in punt return defense allowing
7.77 yards per return while Michigan allows 10.17. Big Ten first-teamer Will
Hart averaged 47.6 per punt, while the Gators Tommy Townsend averaged
44.9. Nevertheless, the Gators hold a four-yard net punting advantage over
Kickoff returns for the Gators were virtually extinct this year as opponents
provided only 10 return opportunities all season. Kardarius Toney and Adarius
Lemons combined for 166 return yards on seven attempts. Meanwhile,
Michigan’s Ambry Thomas returned 19 kicks for 412 yards, including a 99-
yard touchdown gallop in the season opener at Notre Dame.
Wolverines’ freshman Jake Moody was credited with 40 touchbacks on
85 kickoffs, while Florida freshman counterpart Evan McPherson had 38
touchbacks in 72 tries. Moody, who replaced sophomore Quinn Nordin for
placekicking duties in Michigan’s final two games, set a school-record with
six successful field goals against Indiana and then went 2-for-2 against Ohio
State. He also made all four of the PATs he attempted. McPherson was 15-
of-17 in field goal attempts, including a season-long 48-yarder and was 45-
of-45 on PATs.
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