2011 Gator Bowl: Michigan Blown Out By Mississippi State, 52-14

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2011 Gator Bowl: Michigan Routed By Mississippi State, 52-14

If the Gator Bowl was Rich Rodriguez’s final opportunity to show athletic director Dave Brandon that he should remain Michigan’s head football coach, his team’s performance made a terrible last impression.

The Wolverines looked completely overmatched in suffering a 52-14 loss to Mississippi State. It’s the worst performance by a Michigan team in a bowl game, topping the 45-17 loss to Tennessee in the 2002 Citrus Bowl.

As was the case virtually all season, Michigan’s defense was pushed around the field by a powerful rushing attack. The Bulldogs rushed for 210 yards, running up 491 yards of total offense, overwhelming a defensive unit that couldn’t match up physically and appeared disorganized at several points.

The play that might sum up Michigan’s defensive performance the best occurred early in the second quarter. With the Wolverines trying to make a goal line stand and hold a 14-10 lead, the defense was caught attempting to make a last-second substitution.

Linebacker Obi Ezeh was seen running onto the field and across the formation as MSU snapped the ball. Tailback Vick Ballard rushed right through the hole that Ezeh likely would’ve filled for a touchdown and the lead. After the play, ESPN cameras showed defensive coordinator Greg Robinson chewing Ezeh out on the sideline.

But one play hardly made the difference, as the Bulldogs could do whatever they wanted on offense. Quarterback Chris Relk completed 18 of 23 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 36 yards. Tailback Vick Ballard led MSU with 77 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.

Michigan demonstrated an explosive offense throughout the season, something Rodriguez could hang his hat on. However, the Wolverines couldn’t run the ball against MSU’s front seven, managing only 85 yards on the day. (Although, in fairness, Michigan had to abandon the run because it fell so far behind.)

Quarterback Denard Robinson rushed for 58 yards on 11 carries. No other Michigan running back gained at least 20 yards.

Robinson passed for 256 yards and two touchdowns, completing 27 of 41 passes. But he missed on several key third down opportunities, killing several Michigan drives. Darryl Stonum led the Wolverines with 59 receiving yards, while Roy Roundtree had nine catches.

Was the Michigan football team distracted by the uncertainty over Rodriguez’s job status? The coaching staff put on a good face during bowl preparations, looking like they were focused on the task at hand. But worry over whether or not they’d be employed after the Gator Bowl could have been a major distraction.

Obviously, that goes for the players, too. Most of these kids came to Michigan to play for Rodriguez, and wondering if he’d be around to coach them through their collegiate careers — and how their roles could change under a new staff — surely affected their preparations.

Regardless of possible distractions, the Gator Bowl presented a chance to end an up-and-down season on a positive note. Instead, this looked like most every bad loss Michigan endured, with a defense that put the team hopelessly behind, giving the offense little opportunity to catch up. Additionally, special teams performed poorly yet again, rendering the kicking game a non-factor.

If Brandon was waiting to see how the Michigan football team performed in this bowl game to make his final decision on the head coach, it’s difficult to believe this didn’t persuade him that a change might be necessary.

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2011 Gator Bowl, Michigan Vs. Mississippi State: Wolverines Down At Halftime, 31-14

It’s been a familiar story in Jacksonville, as the Michigan defense has struggled in the first half of the Gator Bowl versus Mississippi State. The Wolverines trail 31-14 at halftime.

The Bulldogs have shown a balanced attack, having success passing and rushing through a Wolverines defensive unit that has looked overmatched and disorganized. Quarterback Chris Relf has passed for 135 yards on 12-of-17 passing with two touchdowns. Relf is also MSU’s leading rusher with 43 yards and a score on 12 carries.

Mississippi State has been particularly productive on third down, converting eight of 11 opportunities.

The play that might sum up Michigan’s defensive performance the best occurred early in the second quarter. With the Wolverines trying to make a goal line stand and hold a 14-10 lead, the defense was caught attempting to make a last-second substitution.

Linebacker Obi Ezeh was seen running onto the field and across the formation as MSU snapped the ball. Tailback Vick Ballard rushed right through the hole that Ezeh likely would’ve filled for a touchdown and the lead. After the play, ESPN cameras showed defensive coordinator Greg Robinson chewing Ezeh out on the sideline.

Michigan’s offense has moved the ball, but also been tripped up by turnovers. Quarterback Denard Robinson has an interception and tailback Vincent Smith lost a fumble. In the first half, Robinson has 60 rushing yards on seven carries. He’s passed for two touchdowns and 151 yards, completing 11 of 15 passes.

Wide receiver Martavious Odoms, returning from a midseason foot injury, caught a 27-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone to give Michigan that 14-10 lead.

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2011 Gator Bowl, Michigan Vs. Mississippi State: Preview

(From The Sports Network)

An intriguing Gator Bowl matchup pits the Mississippi State Bulldogs of the SEC against the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten Conference.

"This is a great reward for our players and coaches that worked so hard all year," said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen upon learning of the invite. "We earned this trip with the way we fought throughout the season and we're grateful to the Gator Bowl Association and the City of Jacksonville for this opportunity to play in a historic New Year's Day Bowl."

The Bulldogs will be making their first appearance in a New Year's Day bowl since the 1999 Cotton Bowl. Furthermore, Mississippi State's Gator Bowl berth is the first for a Southeastern Conference member since 1994, and will mark the first time in MSU history the Bulldogs will play a Big Ten foe in a postseason game. State has only played three BigTen opponents in school history, with the last contest coming against Illinois in 1980.

Mullen's team enters this New Year's Day showdown with an 8-4 record, including a 31-23 triumph over Ole Miss in the finale that halted a two-game losing skid. The fact that the Bulldogs lost to still-undefeated Auburn by just three points suggests that MSU is capable of hanging with the elite teams in the nation when it plays up to its potential.

As for Michigan, it is set to make its 40th all-time bowl appearance, and the program hopes to even its postseason record at 20-20 with a win. This will be the third time that Michigan has played in the Gator Bowl, and the team has split its previous two Gator Bowl decisions.

Now in his third season as the head coach of the Wolverines, Rich Rodriguez has seen some major improvement in 2010. The club is 7-5 overall despite a 3-5 mark in Big Ten Conference action, and fans finally have reason to smile after Rodriguez's 2008 and 2009 squads combined to go 8-16, including 3-13 in league play.

"Mississippi State is a great team and has been consistently ranked among the top 25 this season," said coach Rodriguez. "Dan Mullen and his staff have done an outstanding job. It should be a great matchup and we look forward to playing them on New Year's Day."

This showdown marks the first-ever meeting between Mississippi State and Michigan on the gridiron.

Mississippi State is a solid offensive football team, as the club is averaging 27.1 ppg and 394.3 total ypg. The Bulldogs have scored 39 offensive touchdowns, 24 of which have been of the rushing variety, and 215.8 ypg are gained on the ground. Vick Ballard has made the most of his 166 rushing attempts, as he has gained 892 yards to go along with 16 rushing scores.

Chris Relf, MSU's quarterback, has run for 683 yards and four touchdowns. As a passer, Relf has connected on 56.3 percent of his tosses for 1,508 yards with 10 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Chad Bumphis is the top receiver on the roster, as he has 44 catches for 634 yards and five touchdowns.

With 26 takeaways and 26 sacks, Mississippi State has certainly made its fair share of big plays this season on the defensive side of the ball. The Bulldogs have been tough against the run, permitting a mere 121.7 ypg at a clip of 3.6 yards per carry. Against the pass, the Bulldogs have struggled a bit, yielding 236.4 ypg on 12.3 yards per completion.

Opposing quarterbacks have tossed 17 touchdowns against MSU, so expect Michigan to put the ball in the air early and often. Chris White is the top defensive performer for the Bulldogs, as he has posted 105 tackles, 15.5 of which have resulted in lost yardage.

White and company will certainly have their hands full with Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, the 2010 Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year. A true dual threat, Robinson has rushed for 1,643 yards and 14 touchdowns at 6.7 yards per carry, and he has thrown for 2,316 yards and 16 scores. In large part because of their versatile signal-caller, the Wolverines are racking up 34.3 ppg and 500.9 total ypg.

Robinson's top target is Roy Roundtree, who has posted 882 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 63 receptions. As for the ground attack, Robinson does get some help from the likes of Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw. Smith has run for 588 yards and five touchdowns, while Shaw has nine rushing scores to his credit on only 71 totes.

Opponents are notching 33.8 ppg against Michigan, which is yielding 447.9 total ypg. Fans of the team consider this Wolverines' defensive unit one of the worst in recent memory, and it is hard to argue that claim given the numbers. There have been 48 touchdowns surrendered to opposing offenses through 12 games, and 30 of those scores have been of the rushing variety. Michigan is permitting 4.7 yards per rushing attempt to go along with 12.9 yards per pass completion.

With just 17 sacks and 18 takeaways, Michigan hasn't made nearly enough impact plays. Jordan Kovacs leads the Wolverines with 112 total tackles, including 8.5 TFLs, and Jonas Mouton also has 8.5 TFLs while registering one fewer total tackle than Kovacs to date. James Rogers paces the squad with three interceptions.

Robinson is one of the most exciting players in college football and will play well against the Bulldogs. Still, the edge goes to Mississippi State, which is clearly a better defensive football team than Michigan.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Mississippi State 27, Michigan 24

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Michigan's Tate Forcier Ineligible For Gator Bowl

Per a Michigan football release, quarterback Tate Forcier is ineligible for Saturday's Gator Bowl because he "did not meet University standards." It's not clear exactly what standards he failed to meet, but speculation suggests that they are related to academics. While it seems pretty late in the year for a bad grade to just come in, the University of Michigan's exams didn't end until Dec. 22, so it's certainly possible a grade could have been delayed until just recently.

Whatever the case, with Forcier ineligible, Michigan will be without its backup quarterback for the Gator Bowl. For many teams this wouldn't be a big issue, but Forcier played in eight of Michigan's 12 games in the regular season. Denard Robinson hasn't been able to make it through many games without suffering some kind of injury, but the good thing during the regular season was that Forcier was always there to step in and play quite well. This won't be the case on Saturday, though.

Michigan's new backup quarterback is technically Devin Gardner, but the Wolverines had been hoping to get a medical redshirt for him since he hasn't appeared in a game since September. Playing in the Gator Bowl would eliminate the possibility of getting Gardner an extra year of eligibility, so Michigan would obviously prefer to not play him. If Robinson goes down, though, Gardner may be forced into action because Forcier is ineligible.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole story is that just a couple days ago Forcier talked extensively about a number of different topics in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. One of the things he was asked about was academics and Forcier said this (emphasis mine):

On academics: "I've never been the greatest student. My brothers were always the geniuses. I was always the kid who was street smart but not that smart classroom-wise. You really have to try to flunk out here. All you have to do is go to class, it's not that hard. I've always been an average student. I don't ever see myself being that smart of a student. I just feel like it's too much of a job being an athlete. It's too much of a job. You get some of these kids in engineering who are players on our team who have 4.0s, and I just look at them like, 'You must never sleep.' I feel like the work I have is a lot. I can only imagine what they have."

If Forcier is indeed ineligible because of failing to meet academic standards, it certainly wouldn't be all that surprising based on what he said in the above quote.

UPDATE: The Associated Press' Larry Lage reports that Forcier is ineligible because of academics.

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Gator Bowl Adds Progressive As Title Sponsor

The reason why there are so many bowl games nowadays is because there are sponsors willing to shell out the money that keeps them afloat. Every year there are always a few exceptions because games are unable to find sponsors, and the Gator Bowl was actually one of three on that list this bowl season. After having Konica Minolta as a sponsor the last few years, the Gator Bowl entered this bowl season as just the Gator Bowl and nothing more.

Things have picked up for the game in recent weeks, though. After scheduling Michigan to play Mississippi State in Jacksonville on New Year's Day, tickets for the Gator Bowl started selling at a very high rate and there has been a lot of intrigue surrounding this matchup. This is why the decision was made to pit Michigan against Mississippi State, and it has paid off in more ways than one.

On top of selling a lot of tickets to the game already, the Gator Bowl has now added a title sponsor for its game. Progressive, the insurance company, has signed on to serve as the game's sponsor for at least one year.

The Gator Bowl Association will formally announce a one-year title sponsorship deal with Progressive today, with an option for three more that would carry the relationship for the full term of the current TV and conference affiliation deal.

"Progressive is one of the best-known brands in the country," Gator Bowl chairman Steve Tremel said. "Our association with them furthers our standing as one of the premier bowl games in the nation."

What this means is that officially, the game between Michigan and Mississippi State will be known as the Progressive Gator Bowl. It will still be referred to as simply the Gator Bowl by most, but going forward Progressive hopes that people will associate its company with the New Year's Day bowl game.

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