ATLANTA – Florida capped its big comeback season – and left Michigan reeling again.
Lamical Perine had a 5-yard scoring catch and 53-yard touchdown run to lead No. 10 Florida’s strong rushing attack Saturday, helping the Gators affirm their return to relevance with a 41-15 rout of No. 8 Michigan in the Peach Bowl.
After finishing 4-7 in 2017, Florida enjoyed a dramatic turnaround in Dan Mullen’s first season as coach.
The victory put Florida (10-3) in position to enter next season as a Top 10 team.
“In year one, to come here and to know where we were this time a year ago to where we are today, it’s special to me,” Mullen said. “… To finish as a 10-win season, one of the Top 10 teams in the country, that’s pretty special.”
Florida (10-3) closed the season with four straight wins.
“I don’t know many teams that’d be lining up to play us right now,” Mullen said.
Michigan (10-3) closed a promising season with two straight lopsided losses.
Feleipe Franks ran and passed for touchdowns to lead Florida’s offense.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson led Florida’s defense with two interceptions, including one returned 30 yards for a touchdown with less than five minutes remaining. Gardner-Johnson’s first interception early in the second half, when Florida led only 13-10, set the tone for the Gators.
“We showed a lot of heart and a lot of fight and treated it like a regular week,” Gardner-Johnson said. “I don’t know how they prepared. But I don’t think they prepared too well.”
The Wolverines faced the unenviable task of having four top starters, including top rusher Karan Higdon and leading tackler Devin Bush, skip the game to focus on the NFL draft.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said he thought his Michigan players recovered from allowing 567 yards in a 62-39 loss to Ohio State to close the regular season, ending the Wolverines’ hopes for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“I thought they were ready. … I thought they were emotionally ready, yeah,” Harbaugh said, adding he still considered the season to have been “very good.”
“It would have been a great season had we won this game,” he said. “Didn’t get that done.”
Harbaugh said he does not plan staff changes.
Florida compiled 427 total yards, including 257 on the ground.
Franks had a 20-yard scoring run in the second quarter and finished with 74 yards rushing on 14 carries while passing for 173 yards. Perine had 76 yards rushing. Jordan Scarlett ran for 59 yards, including a 1-yard scoring run.
Trailing 13-10, Michigan’s first possession of the second half began at its 48. The excellent scoring opportunity was only a prelude for disappointment.
The Wolverines gained one first down before Patterson’s deep pass over the middle was intercepted at the 3 by Gardner-Johnson, whose 47-yard return to the Michigan 44 set up the Gators.
Speedy Kadarius Toney gained 30 yards on a fourth-down, end-around run to the Michigan 5. Franks’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Perine pushed the Florida lead to 20-10.
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