Instant analysis: Florida 24, Ohio State 17
January, 2, 2012
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Urban Meyer's old team beat his new team in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, as Florida used huge special-teams play, stout defense and just enough offense to beat Ohio State. The Gators end Will Muschamp's first season on a good note, while the Buckeyes can't wait to start the Meyer era.
How the game was won: For the second consecutive year, Florida used superior special teams and opportunistic play to beat a Big Ten opponent in a bowl. Two of the Gators' three touchdowns came in the kicking game, as Andre Debose had a 99-yard kickoff return and Graham Stewart scored following Chris Rainey's blocked punt. Neither offense was overly impressive, but the Gators limited Ohio State's rushing attack and forced a pair of turnovers, including a DeVier Posey fumble in Florida territory. The Gators responded to every Buckeyes surge and nearly kept Ohio State off of the scoreboard in the second half.
Player of the game: Florida running back Chris Rainey. He has made a habit out of blocking punts and got another one, smothering Ben Buchanan early in the third quarter. The Gators recovered and scored to extend their lead to 21-10. Rainey also had 71 rush yards, 31 receiving yards and 31 return yards in the game.
Stat of the game: The Gators came in ranked 112th nationally in third-down conversions at only 30.6 percent. But they converted 6 of 13 attempts against the Buckeyes to keep drives alive.
Record-setting: Ohio State finishes 6-7 to suffer its first seven-loss season since 1897, when it went 1-7-1. The Buckeyes had the longest stretch without a seven-loss season in the FBS by 78 years. The next-longest stretch had been Florida State (1975). Ohio State also has its first four-game losing streak since 1943.
What it means for Florida: The Gators ended a mediocre year on a positive note and claimed their fourth consecutive postseason victory and second straight against the Big Ten. Quarterback John Brantley made some mistakes but still completed 12 of 16 passes for 132 yards. The Gators are strong enough on defense and special teams to make noise in the SEC East next season, but the offense will be the top priority for Muschamp and his staff during the offseason.
What it means for Ohio State: The Buckeyes struggled in their final bowl appearance until the 2013 season, and some of the problems that surfaced all season showed up in the bowl. A mostly conservative offensive game plan produced only 17 points and 299 yards, although Ohio State held edges on Florida in both yards and first downs (20-14). Buckeyes fans won't be sorry to see offensive coordinator Jim Bollman go. Strong special teams had been a staple of the Jim Tressel era, and Ohio State had been better this year than it was in 2010 -- until the bowl breakdowns. It's all about Meyer now and moving things forward. Meyer inherits a mostly young and talented roster, but he and his staff have a lot to do in the offseason.