Ohio State falls to Florida 24-17 in Gator Bowl

Ohio State can take solace in knowing that Urban Meyer loves

special teams.

And there’s no doubt Meyer will spend the next eight months

reminding his new team what happened in Jacksonville.

The Buckeyes gave up two touchdowns on special teams in a 24-17

loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl on Monday, clearly the difference

in a game between Meyer’s former and future teams.

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.

”When you have two good teams play each other, it’s usually

special teams that will make the difference,” Ohio State

cornerback Tyler Moeller said. ”That’s what it was today.”

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

since 1897.

Meyer officially takes over at Ohio State this week and surely

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.

”The two touchdowns on the special teams play were tough,”

Buckeyes center Mike Brewster said. ”It’s demoralizing. It’s like

a free touchdown. But we had a lot of young guys in there. We had

some injured guys who weren’t in there, and the people we had in

there did the best they could.”

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.

The latest loss had a lot 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. Jaye Howard and Sharrif Floyd were disruptive all

afternoon.

”Give (Florida) a lot of credit for calling those blitzes, some

of those we had not seen before,” Brewster said. ”We didn’t do a

good job of adjusting to them. It’s tough to adjust to new schemes

like that during a game.

Florida had similar success the last time it played Ohio State,

a 41-14 victory in the 2007 Bowl Championship Series national title

game in Glendale, Ariz.

Debose and Rainey proved to be game-changers 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

like it.”

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.

”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.”