Miami gives Florida New Year's hangover
Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 12:12 a.m.
ATLANTA - At least the Florida Gators could wake up this morning feeling good about one thing.
It's 2005, a new year.
The misery of 2004 is over. Finally.
The No. 20 Gators closed out their tough, long, controversial season with one of their most humbling moments - a shockingly inept and lifeless performance in a 27-10 rout at the hands of No. 14 Miami in the Peach Bowl before a sellout crowd (69,322) and a national television audience.
This UF team that endured so much in the regular season and stuck together, finally showed signs of coming apart Friday night, wrecking the head coaching debut of interim coach Charlie Strong.
The Gators (7-5) absolutely disintegrated on special teams, giving up two long touchdowns - one to Devin Hester and one to Roscoe Parrish - and missing a chip-shot field goal.
This is the area where the embattled (and fired) Ron Zook had played such an important role during the regular season. But he was not here Friday night and the UF special teams looked like they weren't coached at all.
The Gators' offense wasn't much better than the special teams. Quarterback Chris Leak was under heavy pressure all night, and as a result the offense sputtered and could not sustain drives and create enough scoring opportunities.
Florida's special teams blunders started just when it looked like the Gators were going to gain the early lead and important momentum.
Three plays following a blocked punt by defensive back Tremaine McCollum, Matt Leach came on to attempt a chip-shot 32-yard field goal. But his attempt was blocked by defensive end Thomas Carroll and Hester tracked down the bouncing ball and raced 78 yards for a touchdown to give the 'Canes a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Late in the second quarter, UF's special teams were devastated again, this time by punt returner Roscoe Parrish, who fielded Eric Wilbur's driving kick and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown straight through the heart of the UF cover team. The score came with only 3:48 remaining in the half and gave UM (9-3) a 17-3 lead that would never be threatened.
UF tried to cut into the deficit in the closing seconds of the half, but Leach missed wide left on a 39-yard field goal attempt with less than a minute to play.
Because of its inept special teams, UF found itself down by two touchdowns despite completely shutting down the UM offense.
The 'Canes managed only four first downs and 50 yards of total offense in the half.
The UF offense also contributed to the deficit, failing to consistently move the ball, with Leak struggling most of the half against the pressure produced by UM's athletic defensive front.
In the second half, what had been UF's strength - its defense - also faltered, giving up a 20-yard touchdown pass from Berlin to wide receiver Ryan Moore with 9:34 left in the third quarter that gave the 'Canes a 24-3 lead and pretty much sealed this game.
The Miami offense, which had no answer for UF's aggressive approach in the first half, began rolling up and down the field in the second half behind the accurate passing of Berlin.
The Gators made things interesting late in the third quarter when Leak found Jemalle Cornelius behind the UM secondary for a 45-yard touchdown pass to make it a 24-10 game.
But Berlin and the Hurricanes had an immediate answer, a time-consuming drive that culminated with a 32-yard field goal by Jon Peattie to give Miami a 27-10 lead with 11:52 remaining in the game.
The Gators were pretty much done for the night and the fans could sense it, with the stadium steadily emptying over the final 10 minutes.
The official start of a new UF era will begin Tuesday, when coach Urban Meyer returns to Gainesville and meets with his new players at 7 a.m. meeting.
For UF supporters, it probably can't come soon enough.
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