Nussmeier, Durkin assistant swap adds to Florida-Michigan 'Rebuild Bowl' intrigue
The official name of the game between No. 19 Florida (9-3) and No. 14 Michigan (9-3) is the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, but it might as well be called the Rebuild Bowl.
Florida coach Jim McElwain and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh have overseen instant turnarounds – from 7-5 and 5-7 a year ago to 10-3 and 9-3 respectively – and the sudden return to relevance wasn’t predicted.
And in a unique twist, the rebuilding jobs at both schools were aided by assistants who coached for the other team last season.
When McElwain and Harbaugh built their staffs, the path to and from Ann Arbor and Gainesville was well-worn. Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier held the same position at Michigan last season.
D.J. Durkin, a Florida defensive assistant from 2010-2014, was the defensive coordinator at Michigan this season. Durkin has the Wolverines at No. 4 in yards allowed (281.3 per game) this year, earning him an opportunity to interview for head coaching positions this winter. He was hired by Maryland last week. Durkin is not coaching Michigan’s defense in the bowl game since he’s already hard at work at Maryland.
McElwain and Nussmeier had the Florida offense moving in the right direction when they had the quarterback fit for their system. At the time of Will Grier’s suspension six games into the season, the Gators were gaining 384.7 yards per game, up from 367.6 yards per game in 2014. Under Grier’s replacement, Treon Harris, the Gators are down to an average of 338.7 yards per game for the season.
With an extended preparation period, it will be interesting to see how Nussmeier tries to get the Florida offense going again while taking on his former team. Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers, a holdover from the 2014 staff, should be able to provide insight into the Durkin scheme. The acting defensive coordinator in Durkin’s absence, Greg Mattison, coached alongside Nussmeier last season at UM.
Nussmeier’s biggest issue of late has been his quarterback. Harris has struggled to move the Gators downfield, even when the receivers were getting open, completing only 51.9 percent of his passes. That’s a stark contrast from Grier’s SEC-leading 65.8 completion percentage through Week 6. Last week in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama’s No. 2-ranked defense dominated the line of scrimmage, and Harris wound up having one of his worst games of the season (9-of-24, 165 yards, TD, INT).