Special teams, defense lead Florida to 24-17 win over Ohio State in 2012 Gator Bowl

Offense was not the Florida Gators’ strong suit this season, but Florida (7-6) got just enough of it Monday to compliment a sterling effort from their special teams and defense en route to a 24-17 toppling of the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-7) in the 2012 Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL.

The Gators and Buckeyes were tied at a touchdown apiece minutes into the second quarter until a kickoff return and punt block were each brought back for touchdowns to give UF a 21-10 lead and help the team pull out a much-needed victory to end a tough first season under first-year head coach Will Muschamp.

Florida started out at their own 40-yard-line after the opening kickoff fell out of bounds at the one. The Gators got two quick first downs before redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was hit from behind and, after a review that overturned an incomplete pass, the loose ball was ruled a fumble and given to the Buckeyes. OSU moved down the field but consecutive sacks by UF sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd forced a punt.

The Gators took over on their own 20, and Brantley began leading his team down the field once again. On first-and-10 from the Buckeyes’ 22-yard-line, junior left tackle Xavier Nixon (knee) and Brantley (right forearm) both went down with injuries when the latter was sacked. Brantley would return to the game and two plays later threw a 17-yard strike on third down to redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thomspon for the first touchdown of the game.

Thompson’s reception was questioned by Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell as it appeared the ball came loose when he hit the ground, but Florida got on the field to kick the extra point before he could call a timeout to force a review.

A review wound up being called on the ensuing possession when OSU running back Dan Herron fumbled the ball on first down. UF recovered and won the challenge but coughed it back up to the Buckeyes just two plays later when Brantley mishandled a snap.

Ohio State took advantage of the miscue by tying the game. QB Braxton Miller, who did not attempt a pass in the first quarter, completed three throws for 41 yards as part of an eight-play, 72-yard drive that ended in a touchdown with 11:25 left in the first half.

Florida responded even quicker as redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, going down the field untouched and putting his team ahead 14-7 while setting a school record for longest play in a bowl game and a Gator Bowl record for longest play. He was named the contest’s Most Valuable Player after the game.

Two possessions later, the Gators were stopped for a three-and-out, but a shanked punt by freshman Kyle Christy allowed the Buckeyes to take over at midfield. After gaining two first downs, Miller was sacked for an 11-yard loss as redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard broke through the offensive line. OSU kicked a 47-yard field goal to reduce their deficit, heading into the half down four.

Forcing Ohio State to punt on their first possession of the second half, Florida had both redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey and sophomore WR Solomon Patton break through the formation. The former blocked the punt, which was picked up by freshman linebacker Graham Stewart and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. It was the sixth blocked punt of Rainey’s career, setting a SEC record.

The Gators got another defensive stop and began moving the ball once again until Brantley’s third down pass was intercepted by LB Tyler Moller at Florida’s 47-yard-line. However, just three plays later, Miller completed a pass to Posey that was quickly fumbled (forced by freshman cornerback Louchiez Purifoy), recovered by UF, fumbled again and picked up by junior safety Josh Evans.

Brantley made up for his pick with a great 32-yard pass to redshirt junior TE Omarius Hines on his next play, starting the Gators off on a eight-play, 53-yard drive that stalled a half-yard short of the end zone. Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs netted a 17-yard field goal to provide Florida with a two-touchdown advantage.

Though the Gators stifled the Buckeyes’ offense much of the second half, Miller led Ohio State on a seven-play, 88-yard drive in just 2:08 that ended in an 11-yard touchdown pass to WR Jordan Hall, who made several players miss on his way to the end zone.

Florida, however, recovered the onside kick and kneeled the ball to end the game and earn the hard-fought victory.

Brantley finished his final contest in orange and blue 12/16 for 132 yards with a touchdown, interception and two fumbles. Rainey had team-highs in carries (16), rushing yards (71) and receptions (three) while also coming through with the game-changing punt. Thompson’s touchdown was his first of the season, and Demps was also efficient with eight touches for 34 yards.

Miller was also quite efficient, going 18/24 for 162 yards in the air and two scores; he also carried the ball 15 times for 20 yards, losing a lot of ground due to the number of times he was sacked.

OSU outgained UF 299-263, passing and rushing for more yards, but was held to just 2-of-10 on third down conversion attempts. The Buckeyes also forced one more turnover (3-2) than the Gators and held the ball for slightly under five minutes longer. Florida, however, converted 50 percent of their third downs (6-of-12) and scored twice on drives of one play or fewer.

The Gators avoided a losing season but handed the Buckeyes their first seven-loss campaign since 1897. Florida now has 24-straight winning seasons and 32 consecutive years ending with a record at or above .500, two accomplishments which lead the country. UF also posted four-straight bowl wins for the first time in school history.

Ohio State is now 0-10 all-time against SEC teams in bowl games due to a victory in 2010 being vacated. The Gators also improved to 2-0 all-time against the Buckeyes with their last victory coming 41-14 in the 2007 BCS National Championship.

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2012 Gator Bowl Gameday (Jacksonville, FL): Florida Gators vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

Location: EverBank Field – Jacksonville, FL [Capacity: 84,000]
Weather Forecast: 57°F, sunny, winds WNW at 13 mph
Time: 1:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2/ESPN2HD
SiriusXM: 91
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

FLORIDA GATORS OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Luke Fickell
Record: 6-6 Record: 6-6
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Big 10
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -2; O/U 44

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on the Gators before the bowl game? No problem. OGGOA has been here since the end of the regular season compiling a ton of information so you can do your homework on the team before its next exam.

Muschamp on Gator Bowl, coaches | Coordinators discuss players, game

HISTORY / STREAKS

» Florida leads the all-time series against Ohio State 1-0, with the No. 2 Gators defeating the No. 1 Buckeyes 41-14 in the 2007 BCS National Championship.
» Both teams are entering the game with a 6-6 record (each are 3-5 in their conference as well) and looking to finish the season above .500. UF losing would make them sub-.500 for the first time since 1979, while OSU would not have reached that low of a level since 1897 if they drop the game.
» Both teams are starting head coaches in their first year (and in Fickell’s case his last year) at the helm.
» This is Florida’s 21st consecutive appearance in a bowl game, good for first in the SEC and second nationally. The Gators have played in 18 January bowl games in the last 20 years dating back to 1993. The Buckeyes are second in most January bowl games since 1993 with 16 appearances.
» UF is 19-19 all-time in bowl games and 6-2 in the Gator Bowl but has not participated in this event since 1992. Florida is 7-6 in bowl games against current Big 10 teams.
» Ohio State has not played in the Gator Bowl since 1978 and has not played a bowl game in the state of Florida since 2002. The Buckeyes are 19-22 all-time in bowl games and 15-19 in those played in January.
» The Gators are 4-0 this season when rushing for more than 150 yards and 6-2 when gaining more than 100 yards on the ground. Florida, however, is 1-5 when being outrushed and 0-5 when tied or trailing at the half.
» UF had 18 players make their first career start in 2011 and the 15 true freshman that have seen the field is tied for seventh-most nationally.
» The Gators have half as many upperclassmen (14 seniors, 11 juniors) as they do underclassmen (27 sophomores, 24 freshmen) seeing action this season.
» Florida offense has struggled as of late, and the Gators have had major problems putting the ball in the end zone. Florida has scored points in just 33 of 48 quarters this season and touchdowns in only 25 of those quarters.
» UF’s 13.42 yards per pass completion is No. 1 in the SEC and 16th nationally.
» The Gators are only converting 49 percent (17-of-35) of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns but have scored at least a field goal when the offense has a possession inside the 20-yard-line 86 percent of the time.
» Florida is No. 9 nationally and fifth in the SEC in total defense (299.6 yards per game). The Gators are also No. 25 nationally and fifth in the SEC in scoring defense (20.6 points per game).
» The Gators’ defense is second in the nation in preventing third-down conversions, allowing just 27.7 percent of those attempted to be successful. However, UF is 66th nationally in preventing fourth-down conversions, allowing a 52.0 percent success rate.
» The Buckeyes have allowed the third fewest 100-yard rushers among all teams nationally since 2007, giving up just 11 such performances.
» Florida was one of the least disciplined teams in the country during the regular season, ranking 114th (out of 120 teams) nationally in penalties, committing 93 in 12 games for 699 total yards lost. Ohio State ranks 45th in that category, committing 66 in 12 games for 547 total yards lost.
» The Gators have a +1 turnover margin in six victories but a -12 margin in six losses.
» Florida’s defense has forced the most turnovers in the SEC (315) since 2000. UF also has the most interceptions in the nation (76) since 2008.

LAST TIME OUT

On the way to the team’s second national title, Florida defeated Ohio State 41-14 in the 2007 BCS National Championship the last time these two teams squared off. The No. 2 Gators, led by quarterback Chris Leak (25/36 for 212 yards, touchdown), routed the No. 1 Buckeyes by outscoring them 41-7 after OSU wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Florida led 34-14 at halftime and stifled Ohio State’s offense, holding the team to just 82 yards over the course of four quarters. UF linebacker Earl Everett’s helmet-less sack on OSU QB Troy Smith is one of the most memorable moments from the game and the 2006 season.

FLORIDA’S PRE-GAME THOUGHTS

Muschamp on the team’s improvement: “We’ve made some progress, and I think a lot of that has to do with not having to get ready for a game in a game-week situation, being able to go back to a lot of fundamentals, a lot like training camp or spring practice to be able to work on a lot of those things.”

Muschamp on his team this year: “Coaching at the University of Florida is a dream of mine to be in this opportunity that I’ve been presented. I’m excited about work every day. I’m frustrated at the results maybe at times, but from the standpoint of how our players have worked, how they’ve committed themselves and these guys up here I think have done a good job. Is it the results we want? No. Are we where we want to be? No. But have I seen improvements and improvements within our program sometimes inside the building that maybe people don’t see? We’ve made tremendous strides as a team. It was a tough situation what we inherited, quite honestly. We’ve made tremendous strides.”

Muschamp on if the perception of being sub-.500 is worse than the reality: “It would be disappointing, obviously. It’s not something that we want to have happen. These players and myself and us as a staff don’t want to be saddled with that. Certainly is that a motivating factor? It certainly should be.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley on playing his last game: “I grew up as a Gator. Now that I’ll be exiting this program after this game, I’ll always be a Gator. Through thick and thin. I’ll always be wearing the orange and blue and watching them on Saturdays for years to come.”

Brantley on if he would have done things differently: “I’m just fortunate enough to wake up every day and put on the Gator uniform. To be able to have this opportunity to play major college football at such a great university and one that I’ve loved my entire life was a dream come true, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

INJURIES / ABSENCES

FLORIDA
» Active: Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (head)
» Game-time decision: Redshirt junior Sam linebacker Lerentee McCray (shoulder)
» Inactive: Redshirt sophomore tackle Matt Patchan (back), redshirt sophomore defensive end Kedric Johnson (undisclosed), sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley (torn ACL), redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), freshman CB Marcus Roberson (neck)

OHIO STATE
» Active: Linebacker Andrew Sweat (head, shoulder)
» Game-time decision: Tight end Jake Stoneburner (knee)
» Inactive: Running back Rod Smith (undisclosed)

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (#12)…who has completed 58.9 percent of his passes (132-of-224) this season for 1,912 yards and 10 touchdowns but has also thrown six. He had a career-best game against Furman, throwing for 329 yards and four touchdowns, but followed it up with a career-worst performance against Florida State, throwing for 104 yards with three interceptions.
» Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey (#1)…who has 1,140 yards of total offense this season with five touchdowns (including a punt block return). Rainey is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 12.5 yards per reception and leads Florida in rushing this season. He became the first player in school history to have a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game, achieved the school and SEC record for career punt blocks (five), and is the active leader in that category nationally. He also rushed for 100 yards or more in three-straight games, the first UF player to do so since Fred Taylor last accomplished that feat 14 years ago.
» Senior RB Jeff Demps (#28)…who is second on the Gators in carries (91) and rushing yards (539) this season but leads Florida in touchdowns scored (six). Injuries and poor run blocking have limited Demps’s effectiveness in 2011, but he continues to do whatever he can to help the team each week.
» Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose (#4)…who jumped to first on the Gators’ receiving list with a career-high 151 yards and two touchdowns two games ago against Furman. Debose had mirror image 65-yard touchdowns against Alabama and LSU earlier in the season. Fans have been waiting for Debose to emerge for some time, but his 423 receiving yards now lead the team. Additionally, his 28.2 yards per catch is the highest average in the SEC and third nationally.
» Sophomore safety Matt Elam (#22)…who is the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary. He is second on the team in tackles (72) and at one point created turnovers in three-straight games (fumble-INT-INT). His 12 tackles against LSU a month ago marked a career high, and his nine tackles for loss this season are a team-high.
» Redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard (#6)…who has helped solidified the interior of the Gators’ strongest unit. Howard is the team’s most experienced player on defense (29 starts) and has registered 8.5 tackles for loss along with four sacks and two recovered fumbles this season. He is fourth on the team in total tackles (60) and has even broken up two passes).
» Linebackers junior Jon Bostic (#52) and redshirt sophomore will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (#3)…who are 1-3 on the team in tackles. Bostic (86) and Jenkins (71) have each excelled in different areas for Florida. The former has six tackles for a loss and three sacks while the latter has one sack, seven pass breakups and two interceptions (one pick-six) on the year.
» Sophomores DT Sharrif Floyd (#73) and Buck LB Ronald Powell (#7)…who are each looking to make a statement in Monday’s game. Floyd moves back to his more natural position after spending all season at end and registering 44 tackles and just five for a loss with no sacks, while Powell wants to build on his solid performance against FSU. He has registered 30 tackles (eight for a loss), five sacks and a forced fumble.
» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs (#19)…who has returned for Florida after missing eight games one year ago with an injured back. He is 21-for-25 in field goal attempts on the season (long: 55) and is perfect with 28 extra points, leading the Gators with 91 points scored this season. Sturgis is fourth in the nation with 21 field goals made but tied for 22nd in kicking points.

OHIO STATE
» QB Braxton Miller (#5)…who was named the Big 10 Freshman of the Year after completing 50 percent of his passes for 997 yards with 11 touchdowns and four picks on the season while also leading Ohio State in rushing with 144 carries for 695 yards and seven more scores. All of this and Miller did not start until the fourth game.
» RBs Dan Herron (#1) and Carlos Hyde (#34)…who are also toting the ball quite often for the Buckeyes with over 100 carries each this year. The duo has combined for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns.
» WR Devin Smith (#15) and tight end Jake Stoneburner (#11)…who are two of three players on the team with double-digit receptions on the season. Smith (12) leads the team with 247 yards and has four touchdowns, but Stoneburner (who may not even play due to injury) has a team-high seven touchdowns on just 14 catches.
» LB Andrew Sweat (#41) and DL John Simon (#54)…who are two of OSU’s best defenders. Sweat has totaled 68 tackles along with five for a loss, an interception and a forced fumble this season. Simon is even more dominant with 50 tackles including 15 for a loss and seven sacks.

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Muschamp discusses Weis at Gator Bowl presser

In Jacksonville, FL to promote the 2012 Gator Bowl alongside Ohio State Buckeyes interim coach Luke Fickell, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp spoke less about the game and more about the breaking news that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis decided to accept the head coaching job with the Kansas Jayhawks.

“Charlie took the University of Kansas head football job today. He informed me about a couple of hours ago. I’m very happy for him and his wife Maura. I’m really excited for them,” he said after making an opening statement. “Getting an opportunity to be a head coach, it’s a great compliment to our staff. We’ve had numerous schools contact me about prospective coaches on our staff. For him to have the opportunity to be a head coach again, I know he’s really excited about it, and we certainly wish him all the best.”

Though the news comes as a shock to Florida fans, Muschamp said he was aware that Weis was interested in the position and does not have any problem whatsoever with him taking it even after he promised to be in Gainesville, FL long term.

“In the recent days he was contacted about the job and we talked about it, and he told me it was an opportunity that he wanted to take. I support him 1,000 percent,” he said. “Any time – in our profession is no different than the business world – when you’re able to take a step up, I support it 1,000 percent. In a situation when you’re a coordinator and you got an opportunity to be a head coach, I support it 100 percent. That’s what he wanted to do.

“I asked him and said, ‘Is this something you’re really interested in?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I want to talk to them. If I wasn’t interested, I would not talk.’ So I said, ‘I support you 100 percent if that’s what you want to do. I think that’s great.’ Now when guys make parallel moves, I don’t think that’s great. If guys can further their careers, I think that’s great.”

“There aren’t many opportunities you get to be a head coach,” Muschamp added. “I know with Charlie, the last one didn’t end the way he wanted it to. He’s an outstanding football coach. He’s a family man, and I’m extremely happy for him and his wife, Hannah and Charlie, Jr.”

He also noted that Weis’s supersized contract doesn’t hurt the decision-making process.

“When you talk about a five-year contract and the amount of money that people are willing to pay you nowadays, quite frankly I don’t blame him. That’s what happens. That’s the reality of coaching and business,” he said.

Muschamp was also asked to evaluate how Weis did in a Gators polo and said he appreciated how much effort put in even if things started faltering after redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley got injured on Oct. 1.

“I think Charlie did a good job,” he said. “Obviously we had an awful lot of confidence offensively going into the fifth ballgame of the year. We lost our starting quarterback and we played with two freshman quarterbacks – who are going to be outstanding, who are very good players, and I’m very excited about their future.

“At the end of the day we had the injury, we lost some confidence offensively, we got out of kilter, we started searching for answers and things we can do against good people. When you lose that confidence, it’s tough to regain that confidence. Considering the situations and the circumstances, I’m very pleased with the job he did.”

Weis’s Florida offense finished 102nd nationally in yards per game (334.17) and 72nd in scoring offense (25.58 points per game). He will take over a Kansas program sorely in need of a boost after a multi-year downturn.

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Urban Meyer hired to coach Ohio State Buckeyes

Just 10 months after coaching his final game with the Florida Gators, Urban Meyer has agreed to don a whistle once again after deciding to become the next head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes beginning in 2012, sources confirmed to ESPN Monday.

Meyer, who has spent the 2011 college football season as an analyst for ESPN, has also been traveling around the country making appearances at events, viewing his daughters’ volleyball games and spending time at home in Gainesville, FL with his wife and son.

A two-time national champion at Florida, Meyer was named Coach of the Decade by Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News in 2009. He led the Gators to a 65-15 record with three 13-1 seasons while at the helm, was 36-13 in Southeastern Conference play and won five of the six bowl games Florida played in during his tenure.

Prior to signing with UF, Meyer won Coach of the Year after leading Utah to a BCS bowl in 2004 and going 22-2 in two seasons. He also went 17-6 from 2001-02 at Bowling Green.

Meyer initially resigned from his post with the Gators on Dec. 26, 2009 due to a health scare but changed his mind – choosing to take a leave of absence instead – and returned to the team on March 17, 2010 for the following season.

Florida went 8-5 during his final year at the helm, and Meyer resigned once again on Dec. 8, 2010 citing his health and decision to spend more time with his family. His final game with the Gators was a 37-24 victory over Penn State in the 2011 Outback Bowl.

An offensive coach at Ohio State from 1986-97, Meyer is a native of Ashtabula, OH who played and graduated from Cincinnati before receiving a master’s degree in sports administration from OSU.

He will take the reins of the Buckeyes from Luke Fickell, who was promoted from co-defensive coordinator to head coach after Jim Tressel was fired in the offseason. Fickell is expected to be retained on the staff at a to-be-announced position.

Tressel was head coach of Ohio State from 2001-10, winning one national championship (2002) and six Big Ten titles (2002, 2005-09) while at the helm.

He resigned in the spring of 2011 after the school learned that he withheld information and lied to NCAA investigators in order to keep players on the field. Tressel had already been suspended by OSU for failing to notify the school of NCAA violations.

The NCAA has yet to fully sanction the Buckeyes but is expected to do so in the offseason. Meyer accepted the Ohio State job aware that punishments are pending.

Photo Credit: ESPN

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Meyer refutes Ohio State rumors for “this fall”

Former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer, now a college football analyst with ESPN, released a statement Monday refuting rumors that he is currently in the mix for the Ohio State Buckeyes coaching job left vacant by Jim Tressel.

“I am committed to ESPN and will not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall,” Meyer said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the people at ESPN this spring and remain very excited about my role with the network this fall.

“Jim Tressel has been a respected friend and colleague for a long time. I wish Jim and his family the very best now and in the future.”

Though Meyer’s statement will should quiet the talk of his taking over the Ohio State program this year, its specific usage of the words “this fall” on two occasions will no doubt allow rumors to continue swirling that he could be in line to be the Buckeyes head coach in 2012. Ohio State, incidentally, has said publicly that it does not plan to hire a permanent head coach this year and will stick with interim coach Luke Fickell for the duration of the season. Meyer coached tight ends and running backs at OSU from 1986-87.

Photo Credit: ESPN

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