JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — 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 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 year.”
Ohio State (6-7) dropped four in a row to finish below .500 for the first time since 1988, and lost seven games for the first time since 1897.
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. The Buckeyes beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl last year but that victory was vacated as part of NCAA sanctions.
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.
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. Meyer was coaching Florida that night.