Florida 24, Ohio St. 17
Florida’s Jaye Howard timed the snap perfectly, blew through two
defenders and violently slammed Ohio State quarterback Braxton
Miller to the ground.
”I had a lot of frustrations, man,” Howard said. ”Urban
brought it out in me today.”
Urban Meyer’s future team got a good look at his former team,
and the Buckeyes learned just how fast the Gators can be.
Florida’s defense and special teams came up big in the Gator
Bowl, recording six sacks and scoring twice as the Gators beat Ohio
State 24-17 on Monday.
Andre Debose returned a kickoff 99 yards – the longest scoring
play in bowl history – and Chris Rainey blocked a punt that was
returned for a touchdown.
The speedsters helped the Gators (7-6) avoid their first losing
season since 1979 and pick up some much-needed momentum after
losing six of their previous eight games.
”We don’t want to be remembered as the team that lost, so it
was a big game for us,” Howard said. ”Not only for the seniors,
but the program as a whole. It’s a building block for next
Ohio State (6-7) dropped four straight to finish below .500 for
the first time since 1988, and lost seven games for the first time
The Buckeyes can take solace in knowing that Meyer, who
officially takes over for interim coach Luke Fickell at Ohio State
this week, will make it a priority to improve special teams. Meyer
did that in his six seasons in Gainesville, and Rainey and Debose
were two of his most prized recruits.
”When you have two good teams play each other, it’s usually
special teams that will make the difference,” Ohio State defensive
back Tyler Moeller said. ”That’s what it was today.”
Ohio State fell to 0-10 in bowl games against teams from the
Southeastern Conference. Yes, the Buckeyes beat Arkansas in the
Sugar Bowl last year. But that victory was vacated as part of NCAA
The latest loss had everything to do with Florida’s speed.
The Gators dominated the defensive line of scrimmage. They had a
season-high six sacks, harassing Braxton Miller on nearly every
passing play. Howard and Sharrif Floyd were disruptive all
Florida had similar success the last time it played Ohio State.
The Gators were dominant on defense in a 41-14 win in the 2007 Bowl
Championship Series national title game in Glendale, Ariz. Meyer
was coaching Florida that night.
Debose and Rainey proved to be the difference in the much-hyped
rematch that centered around Meyer.
Just after Ohio State tied the game at 7 on Miller’s 5-yard pass
to DeVier Posey in the second quarter, Debose took the kickoff,
made one cut to the outside and went untouched for his third career
kickoff return for a touchdown. The Buckeyes never got close enough
to even swipe at him, let alone make the tackle.
”It meant a lot to me,” Debose said. ”I just tried to do
anything that I can do to help the team. … There is no feeling
Florida was up 14-10 at halftime and essentially put the game
out of reach on the opening possession of the third.
Rainey came off the left end and blocked Ben Buchanan’s punt.
Seldom-used linebacker Graham Stewart scooped it up at the 14-yard
line and scored the first touchdown of his career.
It was Rainey’s sixth blocked punt of his career, breaking the
school and SEC record.
Rainey also ran for 71 yards on a warm and sunny day in
Jacksonville. John Brantley completed 12 of 16 passes for 132
yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He had a 17-yard
strike to Deonte Thompson in the first.
Ohio State wasn’t nearly as effective.
Miller completed 18 of 23 passes for 162 yards and two
touchdowns. He also ran 15 times for 20 yards. He completed an
11-yard TD pass to Jordan Hall with 57 seconds remaining. The
Buckeyes failed to recover an onside kick, and Florida ran out the
clock for its sixth bowl victory in the last seven years, including
four in a row.
Players doused Muschamp with ice water in the final seconds, but
the coach later made it clear his team still has strides to make to
get back to national prominence.
”The realization of this whole thing, if you want to see big
pictures, in the last two years at the University of Florida, we’re
15-11, that’s unacceptable,” Muschamp said. ”That’s what we are.
… We’re one game (better than) last year. Sometimes I think
you’ve got to put your realistic glasses on (to see) where you are
as a program right at this point.
”It’s not where we’re going to be very long. I can assure you
of that. Moving in the right direction.”
Ohio State has building blocks, too. Miller, a freshman, gives
Meyer an experienced and improving quarterback for next season even
though the Buckeyes won’t be bowl eligible.
”This whole season was a learning process,” Miller said. ”I
learned as the season went on. I could have played better. I’m
anxious to get going for next year.”