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Behind Enemy Lines Q&A with Alligator Army

The Gators may give Michigan a major challenge

NCAA Football: Florida at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines take on the Florida Gators on Saturday at the Peach Bowl.

With that in mind, we wanted to get a little intel on the guys from Gainesville, and Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army was kind enough to answer a handful of questions that shed light on Florida’s strengths and weaknesses.

Behind Enemy Lines Q&A

Florida’s rushing offense is ranked 27th while their passing offense is ranked 76th. Are these rankings deceiving, or are they what they look like on paper (a good rushing attack but bad through the air)?

I think it is entirely fair to say that Florida is better at running the ball than passing it, but those rankings are deceiving if you think the passing offense is “bad” based only on rankings. The Gators get a lot more out of Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine on the ground than they get out of any one receiver, but Feleipe Franks has significantly improved this year -- he does not really resemble the player that Michigan saw in his first collegiate game at the beginning of the 2017 season -- and he has some excellent targets in Van Jefferson, the emerging Trevon Grimes, and Freddie Swain.

It is perhaps also worth noting that Florida is only 76th in passing yards per game -- by yards per attempt, the Gators tie for 49th, and by passing efficiency, they are 37th. These Gators are not the pass-happy ones of the ‘90s, and are not as potent through the air as they were in Tim Tebow’s heyday, but their relatively low yardage totals reflect relatively few attempts, not poor efficiency.

Who are two players to watch on both sides of the football on Florida?

I’ll say Jordan Scarlett -- who Florida missed dearly when it played Michigan a year ago -- and Trevon Grimes on offense, and Jachai Polite and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson on defense. Scarlett is a bruising runner who rarely goes down on first contact, and Grimes is a lanky Ohio State transfer who seems to have found his footing at year’s end: He has multiple catches in each of his last five games after accomplishing that feat just twice in Florida’s first seven contests, and is coming off a five-catch, 118-yard performance in Florida’s blowout of Florida State.

Polite and Gardner-Johnson profile as 2019 NFLers, even though only Gardner-Johnson has officially declared for the NFL Draft. But Polite, who is a quick and relentless edge rusher, is the first-rounder of the two; while Gardner-Johnson blends the coverage skills and immense confidence he came to Florida with as a cocky high school star with tackling technique he has refined as a Gator to become a fantastic slot corner, he is not the game-wrecker that Polite can be.

Dan Mullen appears to be receiving a lot of praise nationally for the job he’s done at Florida, do you find his offensive scheme to be innovative and one for opposing teams to fear playing?

Innovative oversells it, and fearsome probably does too, at this point. Mullen is less a revolutionary than an expert when it comes to the spread, having run similar versions of his scheme for nearly two decades, first as an offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida and then as a head coach at Mississippi State and now Florida. It is a scheme predicated on establishing the run and then working to the perimeter with the passing game, and it works, but it is primarily different from Florida’s pro-style attacks under Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain for me as an observer because it a) is a spread offense and b) works.

Florida fans have seen this spread before, so long as they watched the Gators in the mid-2000s, and so has much of the nation. So has Michigan, though the Ohio State offenses that have devoured the Wolverines under Meyer have generally been more pass-happy versions of spreads than the one Mullen prefers. But if I were going to point out any reasons for fear about this offense, this year, they would have to be rooted in its proven efficiency rather than any radical changes.

What are Florida’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?

The strengths: Florida has a ferocious pass rush led by Polite and Jabari Zuniga and fueled in part by Todd Grantham’s blitzes, a balanced offense that can be efficient through both running and passing the ball, and really good special teams that can steal yards or points.

The weaknesses: Franks is not good enough yet to be expected to excel if Florida falls behind, and the Gators’ interior defensive linemen and secondary players leave a bit to be desired, especially in their depth.

What is the attitude Florida fans have about going up against Michigan for the third time in four seasons?

It’s fatigue. There is a significant minority of Florida fans excited about pitting brand name against brand name, but the Gators having played Michigan as many times as they have not just in the last few years but in the last decade-plus -- some of us remember the 2013 NCAA Tournament, or the 2008 Capital One Bowl, too -- made me eager to see a different matchup this bowl season, and the Florida-UCF matchup that wasn’t would have been a novel and thrilling game for Floridians of many kinds.

Florida seeing Harbaugh and these Wolverines again? Meh.

Do Florida fans wish the Gators were playing UCF in a bowl game so they could end their undefeated season? Is that a thing or am I wrong?

Yes, but I think it’s less about wanting to end UCF’s undefeated season than wanting to see a different matchup. Florida fans are sick of nouveau riche UCF fans in much the same way that Florida State and Miami fans were miffed by nouveau riche Florida fans as the Gators rose in the ‘90s and ‘00s -- but no one thought those Florida national titles were laughable, and while Florida pled its case a few times, it never agitated for itself quite as stridently as UCF and its athletic director have. It would have been fun and deeply satisfying to see Florida end UCF’s unbeaten run, sure.

But, frankly, I am not the opinion that Florida beating UCF would have been an assured outcome, or even likely, and the heart of the appeal of seeing Florida-UCF for me was its novelty.

Have you had a chance to watch any film of Michigan this season? What are your general thoughts, good or bad about the team?

I haven’t, really, but I know Michigan’s defense as a scary one that got lit up by Ohio State and Michigan’s offense as a decent vintage of the Harbaugh attack.

If Florida is going to win the game, what will they have to do against Michigan?

This is a deeply boring answer, but: Control the game. Florida is much better-equipped to play a close game or preserve a lead than storm back from a deficit (even though Florida has actually erased a pair of 20-point deficits in wins this year), and Michigan won the 2017 game between these teams by taking a lead in the second half and holding it. If Florida can avoid falling behind, I like the Gators’ chances.

How do you think this game will shake out? Will this be the most competitive game Michigan’s had against Florida in the Harbaugh era?

I think Florida has by far its best shot at a Harbaugh team in this game, and I would lean toward Florida having an edge in terms of enthusiasm, with no Gators apparently skipping this game and Michigan being down two great defenders and one very good running back. Is that enough for Florida to win? I’m less sure about that, but I would pick the Gators in a relatively close game if forced to choose, with no outcome surprising me.