JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 02: Head Coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators celebrates with his players after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 24-17 in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on January 2, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Florida defeated Ohio State, 24-17, in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, which reacts to the game in full before a second viewing, comes first.
Florida has a bowl win under Will Muschamp. Florida has a winning season under Will Muschamp. Florida has an undefeated record against Ohio State. (And I ended up in a debate on Twitter.) It's nice to be able to count on some things.
How Florida Won
Florida never trailed, but took a 21-10 lead on a blocked punt early in the second half that helped put the game fully out of reach. It was the second moment of special teams brilliance on the day, after Andre Debose's 99-yard kickoff return, the longest play in Gator Bowl history.
Remember when special teams coach D.J. Durkin was the object of ire for every Florida fan? The Gators finished the year with six blocked kicks and three touchdowns on kick and punt returns, and Chris Rainey now owns the school and SEC records for blocks. Florida's special teams produced 14 points today, as many as Ohio State's offense, and that's reminiscent of the great Florida teams of the last few years.
Rainey didn't have his greatest game on the ground, with 71 yards, or his best game as a receiver, despite leading the team with three catches and accumulating 31 receiving yards. But put those things together with the block, and the dancing that drives defenders nuts, and the load he has been expected to carry (he had 16 carries; all other Florida runners combined had 22), and Rainey was probably one of Florida's five best players today.
Also on that list: Debose. No one on the current roster matches the game-breaking potential he has, and he's a weapon on special teams to rival Brandon James. He deserves the Gator Bowl MVP award he got, and he deserves to be a focal point of Florida's 2012 offense. Here's hoping he will be.
Florida's defensive line had six sacks, a season high, and got them with the help of a secondary that essentially didn't melt down at all; yes, there was a long pass in the fourth quarter, but it was while Florida was playing a modified prevent defense. That's the sort of defense Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn want, and they will have almost everyone (including Dominique Easley and Marcus Roberson, not part of this game) back in 2012. That portends good things.
Speaking of good things on defense: Florida forced two fumbles! That makes me very happy!
John Brantley's never going to be confused for an excellent quarterback, or an NFL quarterback, no matter what Muschamp says, but he was better in this game than most in his senior year and made one of the best throws of his career on a dart to Rainey. Sure, he threw an interception, but it was a tipped pass; sure, he "fumbled" twice, but the first came on a weird, weird incomplete pass on the field that got turned into a fumble after the fact, and the other one was a snap exchange problem. I feel charitable today, and Brantley's day other than those miscues was really good, especially because he discovered an ability to escape in the pocket early on. So he's here. I'm not particularly sad to see him go, but I'm happy he left with the glow of victory on him.
Florida's offensive line didn't let Brantley get sacked, and even though it was probably as responsible as Brantley for the two fumbles, that still counts as a good day. With Matt Patchan out and Xavier Nixon and Chaz Green both banged up, it gets bumped up a notch to very good. This isn't a dominant unit now, and I'm not convinced that it can be one. But, for once, its delta was trending up.
The offense as a whole was generally a few steps removed from the worst of the worst this season, and a lot of people on Twitter, when asked to grade Brian White's performance as offensive coordinator, gave him something around a B. I thought White was probably the front-runner to be Florida's permanent offensive coordinator coming into the game, and I doubt that he hurt his stock.
Mike Gillislee saw the field and carried the ball. Whoa.
I don't know what really caused the snafu at the end of the first half that ended with Florida taking a delay of game penalty and kneeling instead of throwing a Hail Mary, but I would like for it to be cleaned up before 2012.
I tweeted that Florida's wide receivers were having their best game of the season early on, and I meant it, and yet they still combined for five catches for 50 yards. Sigh.
Here's what I'm embarrassed about, and what I've been tweeting about, via Marcus Hartman:
Tyler Moeller called Florida players classless. "I've never been called so many racial slurs in my life."
Here's full Moeller quote after I got chance to listen again: "I’ve never seen more people swing at our players & call us racial slurs..."
"I’ve never been called a cracker more in my life than I have today." Moeller on Florida in Gator Bowl
Hartman also added that Moeller "seemed to feel like it needed to be said" and that his quote was an answer to a question about chippiness, but here's the deal: If players are using words tinged with racial animus to get under others' skin, even on a football field where seemingly all is fair if a referee doesn't see you, that bugs me. If Florida players are doing that, it bugs me and it's in my jurisdiction, such as it may be.
I don't want people who represent the university that I attend and love to represent it in a manner that other people can call "classless," in general (I know you remember Hannah Rogers' blackface episode), and I don't like the idea that seemingly mutual chippiness is going to get turned into a referendum on whether the Gators are classy. But mostly, I'm embarrassed that this was dismissed by so many so quickly, and frustrated that I didn't express my qualms about both Florida players' alleged slurs and Moeller's response to them articulately enough to have a healthy discussion about them.
And I hate that this is what I'm talking and writing about, hours after a big win. But some things are more important than sports, and I'm not embarrassed to be upholding that idea.