How Michigan can hold off Florida State in the Orange Bowl

Two teams with designs on a national title settle for a faceoff in the Orange Bowl Friday.

| 5 months ago
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

How Michigan can hold off Florida State in the Orange Bowl

The Orange Bowl (8 p.m. Friday) slates the Michigan Wolverines against the Florida State Seminoles. Miami is a place neither of these teams would prefer to be entering postseason play, but preparations for the 2017 season start now. A win over a talented out-of-conference opponent could be a big boost in either side’s psychology entering the new year. The Orange bowl offers one final chance to leave an impression entering a period of overhaul.

What to watch for when Michigan has the ball

The Wolverines love to play power football under Jim Harbaugh and, in right tackle Eric Magnusson, they have the personnel to execute a physical ground game. In fact, all of Michigan’s front five make regular positive contributions when allowed to fire off the ball. The same cannot be said when the unit is required to drop back in pass protection. Together, they have allowed 78 combined pressures, ranking 101st in the nation in pass-blocking efficiency. The matchup with DeMarcus Walker is of particular concern. At least in De’Veon Smith, Chris Evans, Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon, the Wolverines have a deep staple of running backs capable rotating on a consistent basis. They will need patience to wear down Florida State’s stout front led by defensive tackles DeMarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi.

The Wolverines are not short of talented playmakers, but lack a true signal caller to get them the football consistently. Quarterback Wilton Speight has endured an indifferent season, despite quality options in wide receiver Amarah Darboh and tight end Jake Butt. Butt’s matchup with Seminole safeties AJ Westbrook and Trey Marshall, as well as linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins, could decide the game in Michigan’s favour, assuming Speight has enough time and poise to make connect on some big plays.

What to watch for when Florida State has the ball

With freshman Deondre Francois at the helm, Florida State’s offense is built around Dalvin Cook’s magical ability. Perhaps no running play in college football induces as much fear as a Cook handoff on outside zone running behind stud left tackle Roderrick Johnson. The remaining front five for FSU are substandard, however, especially C Alec Eberle and right tackle Rick Leonard. Cook doesn’t necessarily need good blocking, though, with almost 75 percent of his yardage this year coming after contact. He’ll need to be at his best against a Michigan front stacked with talent. The Wolverines go four deep even behind impact starters Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow and Taco Charlton.

On the perimeter, the Seminoles’ lack of star quality could come back to hurt them. Travis Rudolph, Auden Tate, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are all solid, but none are likely to change a game in Florida State’s favor. Even without starting corner Jeremy Clark, the Wolverines secondary ranks among the best in college football. Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis steal the limelight, but Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill have all chipped in with telling contributions this year.

PFF stats to know

Dalvin Cook’s 118.5 elusive rating leads the nation. He ranks first in broken tackles (80) and second in yards after contact per attempt (4.05). How Cook fares will almost certainly tell in the final score column. Michigan’s front cannot force the Seminoles into long yardage situations if Florida State expect to win. Deondre Francois has endured a crisis of confidence of late, and Michigan’s secondary is probably the best he has faced in this span of games.

Prediction: Michigan 17, Florida State 10

A low-scoring game is expected in this battle of defensive stalwarts. Ultimately, the Seminoles offense is likely to struggle if Michigan limit Cook’s output. The Wolverines appear likely to grind out a narrow victory.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Mike J.

    With the time they have had to practice, I hope my ‘Noles have maybe worked on some option plays. IIRC, they ran it once in 2015, against Miami, & Cook broke off a long TD run.
    Francois get better almost weekly as the season wore on.
    I expect a high-effort game from FSU after that lackadaisical performance last year against Houston.

  • GordonGekko

    It’s a exhibition game, who gives a sh*t.