Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer wanted to go out with a bang and senior safety Ahmad Black – perhaps Meyer’s favorite player on the team – made sure that was exactly what happened. With the Penn State Nittany Lions threatening to score a potential game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Black intercepted quarterback Matthew McGloin and returned the ball 80 yards for a touchdown to ice a 37-24 win for the Gators in the 2011 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
Florida (8-5) defeated Penn State (7-6) on Saturday in Tampa, FL behind a defense that intercepted McGloin five times and an offense that did not commit a single turnover after giving up the ball twice in the first quarter. Redshirt junior QB John Brantley threw an interception on UF’s first play from scrimmage, and freshman QB Trey Burton fumbled into the end zone when the Gators were threatening to score from the one.
Rallying from a 17-14 deficit at halftime, Florida scored four straight times to end the game and did not allow the Nittany Lions to put up a single point in the fourth quarter. Meyer walked away from the Gators with a win over future Hall of Fame head coach Joe Paterno and a 5-1 record in bowl games.
Penn State jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when McGloin hit wide receiver Derek Moye with a five yard pass.
Sophomore tight end Omarius Hines tied the game at the start of the second quarter with a 16-yard end around run for a touchdown, and redshirt sophomore defensive end Lerentee McCray put Florida up 14-7 after returning a punt blocked by freshman WR Solomon Patton 27 yards for a touchdown.
WR Michael Zodrich evened things up for the Nittany Lions with a one-yard score just minutes later, and kicker Colin Wagner helped Penn State take a 17-14 halftime lead with a 20-yard field goal.
After Gators senior punter/kicker Chas Henry hit a 30-yard field goal to tie the game at 17, McGloin ran the ball in from two yards out to put PSU back put 24-17. Henry’s career-long 47-yard field goal near the end of the third reduced UF’s deficit to 24-20.
Sophomore RB Mike Gillislee helped Florida jump ahead 27-24 with a one-yard touchdown run to begin the fourth quarter, and Henry added a 20-yard field goal to put the Gators ahead 30-24 before Black’s game-sealing interception return.
Black also nabbed an interception off McGloin in the first quarter. Freshman cornerback Cody Riggs picked him off to start the second quarter, senior linebacker Brandon Hicks earned his first career interception at the end of the third quarter and redshirt junior CB Moses Jenkins grabbed a pick to end the game.
Henry, who helped Florida manage its field position all game and was clutch in his field goals, had an uncharacteristic 14-yard punt go out of bounds starting at the Gators 23 and failed in a fake punt opportunity. With over seven minutes to go in the third quarter, Henry had a fake punt called in which he was supposed to throw a pass to wide open junior safety Will Hill Instead he tucked it and ran four yards – one yard short of the first down. He also had a long of 58 and downed two inside the 20 (one to the one).
Penn State outgained Florida 350-279 in total yards, 211-101 in yards through the air and 32:49-27:11 in possession time. The Gators outrushed the Nittany Lions 178-139 yards. Both teams were inefficient on third down with UF going 4-for-15 and PSU connecting on 5-of-18 attempts.
Redshirt freshman QB Jordan Reed, who took the vast majority of snaps behind center for Florida, finished as the team’s leading passer and rusher. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 60 yards and rushed 24 times for 68 yards. Brantley was 6-of-13 for 41 yards and an interception in mostly third down work. Redshirt junior WR Chris Rainey carried the ball six times for 66 yards (including a long of 51).
Hines was the team’s leading receiver with two receptions for 27 yards. Redshirt junior WR Deonte Thompson and Burton each caught two passes for 22 yards.
McGloin finished 17-for-41 for 211 yards with a touchdown and five interceptions for Penn State. Running back Evan Royster – the Nittany Lions’ all-time leading rusher – carried the ball 20 times for 98 yards and added four catches for 51 yards.
Moye caught the majority of McGloin’s passes, finishing with five receptions for 79 yards and a number of first downs. CB D’Anton Lynn caught Brantley’s early interception and recovered Burton’s fumble in the first quarter.
After Black’s interception, chants of “Urban Meyer, Urban Meyer” rained down from the Gators side of the stadium. Florida improved to 16-0 under Meyer when blocking a punt in a game, a statistic he has always been proud of as the team’s head coach.
Photo Credit: Rob C. Witzel/Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun