Two interceptions from playmaking safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson propelled the Florida Gators to a perfect ending to a season that exceeded expectations. After going in at halftime up 13 points to 10 the Gators started the second half on defense. Michigan picked up a first down, they were rolling. That was until quarterback Shea Patterson chose to throw to Nico Collins running a post route over the middle of the field. In spite of the other star wide receiver of the Wolverines Donovan Peoples-Jones beating his man to be wide open and in for six. Gardner-Johnson faked to move over to cover Peoples-Jones before showing off his fantastic range and playmaking ability. He broke on Collins’ route and undercut the throw. Coming up with a huge interception in the process and changing the game.
In a single play, Florida broke Michigan. The big-game demons that have plagued Harbaughs time in Ann Arbor came flooding back. The Michigan defense, that had been the number one unit in the nation over the regular season folded. It was eerily similar to its last outing, the match-up against Ohio State. The Wolverines could not live with the speed and trickery of the Gators offense. Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks both threw and rushed for touchdowns as Michigan defensive co-ordinator Don Brown stood helpless on the side-line.
Big Offseason For Michigan’s Staff
The loss puts huge pressure on Michigan’s coaching staff. They will now enter an offseason that is pivotal for this staff’s future. There is continued rumblings of NFL teams wanting to try and lure Jim Harbaugh away from his alma mater. All whilst the ghosts of big game losses have reared their ugly heads in the crucial games this season. With arch-rivals Ohio State undergoing a coaching transition, there is increased pressure on the Michigan staff to get things right, as next season may be the best chance Harbaugh has to banish the demons.
Rising Up Draft Boards
Prior to bowl season, Gardner-Johnson was the number 10 safety according to ‘The Draft Network’. It is clear he will be rising up boards following this performance. I’m not sure this performance alone is enough to launch him in to the first round, however a strong performance in the offseason part of the draft process may be enough to push him in the first half of Day 2.
Teams will be drawn to his play making ability, especially given how his interception inspired his team. His struggles as an open field tackler may mean teams see him more as a nickel corner at the next level. However it is clear from this performance the team that drafts Gardner-Johnson next year will be getting a player with a fantastic competitive spirit and jaw-dropping playmaking ability. I would be surprised to hear his name making plays on NFL Sundays for years to come.
Photo Courtesy of Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun