ATLANTA — The Peach Bowl was supposed to be Michigan’s opportunity to turn the page on last month’s embarrassment in Columbus. It can be difficult to glean conclusions from an ultimately meaningless bowl game, but whatever the long-term significance, the Wolverines could have at least gone into the offseason with a fresh taste in their mouth.
After an uninspired performance in Saturday’s 41-15 loss to Florida, that hope has been relegated to the annals of history. Instead, the foul taste that was kindled in Columbus and cemented in Atlanta will be the lasting memory of this once-promising season.
All week in the lead-up to the game, Michigan’s coaching staff repeated the positives from their month of bowl practices, insisting that the team had re-energized itself after their loss to Ohio State. Even if that was true in practice, it certainly didn’t carry over to Saturday.
For much of the first half, the Wolverines looked to be on their way to the methodical win most expected them to pick up. They struggled in the red zone, settling for field goals when touchdowns were within reach, and in the secondary. But when sophomore defensive back J’Marick Woods blocked a Gator punt to set up a field goal, Michigan led 10-6. It was uninspiring, certainly, but the Wolverines were on their way to victory.
Then the rest of the game happened.
First, Florida quarterback Felipe Franks — who averaged 46 rushing yards per game in the regular season — marched the Gators down the field with 65 rushing yards to establish a lead they would never relinquish. Michigan had a chance to tie or regain the lead on its next possession but stalled when it got into Florida territory and settled for a 52-yard field goal that freshman kicker Jake Moody pulled left.
At halftime, social media flooded with assertions that the second half would determine how much the Wolverines really cared about this game. That answer quickly became obvious.
After a Florida punt, the rest of the half quickly settled into a pattern of Michigan punting and the Gators promptly responding with a touchdown. When the Wolverines appeared to catch a respite from the onslaught, it repeatedly proved to be a mirage.
Early in the fourth quarter, sophomore wide receiver Tarik Black came up with a highlight reel touchdown catch to cut the deficit to 10. Only, the ball lay on the ground — clearly incomplete — before he had completed the process and Michigan had to settle for a field goal.
Seven minutes later, with the game long out of reach, the Wolverines blocked their second punt of the day to force a safety and offer a late glimpse of optimism — until quarterback Shea Patterson threw a pick-six on the very next play to send the Michigan half of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to the exits long before they expected to be leaving.
And as the Wolverines head into their third consecutive bitter offseason, that sums up the lasting image of Michigan’s season as well as anything.