Florida turned two special-teams plays -- one of them a Gator Bowl-record 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Andre DeBose -- into the difference makers of a 24-17 victory over Ohio State in just the second-ever matchup between the schools.
Thus, Ohio State (6-7) heads into an NCAA-mandated postseason hibernation for 2012 riding a four-game losing streak, the Buckeyes' first since 1943, and their first losing record since 1988, when they went 4-6-1 in the first year under John Cooper.
Urban Meyer, on Nov. 28 named Ohio State's 24th head football coach, takes over fully on Tuesday after letting interim head coach Luke Fickell guide the Buckeyes through the bowl. Meyer, who in the past coached specials in six years at Florida that included two national titles, likely was beside himself in Columbus while watching the Gator Bowl. An Ohio State spokesman said Meyer had returned from his Gaineville, Fla., home yesterday, poised to meet with the team early Tuesday.
Ohio State had gained its first-ever win over a Southeastern Conference team in a bowl a year ago, when it beat Arkansas in the Sugar. But that win was vacated as part of the sanctions imposed by the NCAA in its investigation of the OSU football program that includes a postseason ban this coming season.
Take away the special-team team gaffes against Florida (7-6) and today's game was pretty much a wash. But that's not how it works.
The contest turned decisively early in the second half, when Florida's Chris Rainey broke through to block Ben Buchanan's punt at the OSU 32-yard line. Florida's Graham Stewart scooped up the ball at the 14 and rambled to the end zone, the touchdown upping the Gators' lead to 21-10 with 11:14 left in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes had something going later in the quarter, when on third-and-six at the Florida 43, Braxton Miller stood up to a blitz and hit DeVier Posey on a slant that would have netted the first down. Except as Louchiez Purifoy tackled Posey he also stripped the ball. Florida's De'Ante Saunders first picked up the ball at the 28, dropped it, then teammate Josh Evans plucked it and ran to the Florda 46.
Eight plays later, the Gators had to settle for a 17-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis, upping their lead to 24-10 at 14:09 of the fourth quarter.
Ohio State set the final score when Miller hooked up with Jordan Hall for an 11-yard TD pass with 1:31 left.
It had been a lot closer in the first half. When Miller hooked up with Posey on a 5-yard touchdown pass off a slant route at 11:25 of the second quarter, it matched the Florida touchdown in the first quarter, which came on a 17-yard pass from John Brantley to Deonte Thompson.
Then Andre DeBose flipped the script, special-teams wise, the first time. He fielded the OSU kickoff following the Posey touchdown and raced straight up his left sideline untouched to put Florida back in front 14-7 at 11:13 of the second quarter. It was the longest kickoff return in Gator Bowl history, and the third career kickoff return for TD by DeBose, a Florida record.
Ohio State had a chance to tie it just before halftime when Posey broke wide open in the right corner on a pass route, but Miller overthrew him on what could have been a 23-yard play.
After Miller was sacked for the fourth time in the first half, by Florida's Jay Howard, the Buckeyes settled for a 47-yard field goal from Drew Basil with 15 seconds left in the half, leaving Florida up 14-10 at the break.
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