Wolverines overcoming adversity
Published 7:40 pm Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The Michigan football team has a lot more on its mind this bowl season than its opponent Mississippi State.
The fate of their football coach could very well be hanging in the balance as the Wolverines take on the Bulldogs on Saturday in the Gator Bowl.
This will be the first bowl trip since coming to Ann Arbor for the embattled Wolverine coach, but Rich Rodriguez and his staff have been able to put their troubles behind them and concentrate on their meeting with Mississippi State in Jacksonville, Fla. at 1:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day.
Michigan (7-5) didn’t overwhelm anyone down the stretch. After starting 5-0 for the second straight season, the Wolverines won just two of their final seven games and were outscored during that stretch 279-205.
Michigan defeated Illinois 67-65 in triple overtime and Purdue 27-16 to snap a two-game losing streak and become bowl eligible for the first time under Rodriguez.
The Wolverines finished the year losing to Wisconsin (48-28) and to arch rival Ohio State (37-7).
Saturday’s Gator Bowl will be the first meeting between Michigan and Mississippi State, which finished the year 8-4 and went 4-4 in the SEC.
This is the third trip to the Gator Bowl for the Wolverines, who are 7-3 against the SEC in bowl games and are 23-5-1 against the league overall.
Michigan lost to North Carolina 17-15 in the 1979 Gator Bowl and then defeated Mississippi 35-3 in its most recent Gator Bowl in 1991.
The Wolverines remain a game under .500 in bowl contests as Michigan is 19-20. This is Michigan’s 40th bowl appearance, which is 11th all-time nationally. Its 19 bowl wins ranked 14th nationally.
Rodriguez will be taking a team to a bowl game for the seventh time in his career. He is 3-3, with all three wins coming in his last three appearances. Rodriguez-coached teams are 1-2 in the Gator Bowl.
Rodriguez is 2-0 against the Bulldogs, having faced them twice while at West Virginia.
The Wolverines bring one of the top teams in the country on offense into Saturday’s game. Michigan is also one of the most balanced teams as it averages 251.1 yards on the ground and 249.8 through the air.
Michigan has scored 66 touchdowns this season and has converted on 43-of-52 red zone chances.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson set an NCAA record as he became the first player to rush and throw for more than 1,500 yards in a single season.
He helped the Wolverines set a new school record for total yards (6,011), surpassing the old record set in 2003 of 5,807. Michigan rushed for 3,013 yards in 2010 and threw for another 2,998.
The Bulldogs are ranked No. 21 in the country this season and will be making their 13th appearance in a bowl game. Mississippi State is 7-6 in those games, including a 10-3 win over Central Florida in the 2007 Liberty Bowl.
The Bulldogs averaged 27.1 points per game in 2010 and amassed 394.3 yards per game. Mississippi State ran for an average of 215.8 yards and threw for 178.6.
Vick Ballard led the team in rushing, averaging 81.1 yards per game. He scored 17 touchdowns, which was a new school record.
He has run for at least one touchdown in nine of his last 11 games.
Chris Relf threw for an average of 125.7 yards per game. He, like Robinson, is a dual threat as he ran for a school record 1,170 yards in his career.The Gator Bowl can be seen live on ESPN2 beginning at 1:30 p.m.