Notebook: Gators bring pressure

Florida Gators defender Ronald Powell (7) tackles Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) during the first half of the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on Monday, Jan. 1, 2012 in Jacksonville, Fla. Florida defeated Ohio State 24-17. (Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 2, 2012 at 6:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2012 at 6:55 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE ---- For much of the season, Florida's pass rush has been sporadic. Against Ohio State on Monday, the Gators' defense surged, rumbling for a season-high six sacks during a 24-17 victory in the Gator Bowl.

UF, which had totaled 22 sacks during the regular season, disrupted the Buckeyes with consistent pressure, totaling 12 stops for a loss during the crisp January afternoon.

“You'd love to have six sacks in every game, but I think a little bit of (the strategy) was to pressure (Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller), to keep edges for his escapability,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “He's an outstanding athlete and a guy that's going to continue to progress as a player, very reminiscent of three or four years in the Fiesta Bowl, Terrelle Pryor, a very similar-type guy. Not as tall, but a similar type athlete. We had to do some things to create edges and not let him escape as much.”

Five Gators --- Matt Elam, Josh Evans, Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd and Jaye Howard ---- contributed at least one sack ---- rewarding, particularly because former Florida coach Urban Meyer will formally take over the Buckeyes' program, 13 months after leaving UF.

“I had a lot of frustration,” Howard said. “Urban brought it out of me.”

Ohio State never really got in sync offensively. The Buckeyes, who trailed by double digits most of the second half, generated 299 yards, but were hurt by two fumbles and 43 yards in negative rushing yardage.

“Football's a game of one-on-one battles,” Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said. “… (Florida) won those battles.”

Position changes

Florida's offensive line featured two new starters ---- left tackle Nick Alajajian and left guard James Wilson. Alajajian started in place of Matt Patchan (back injury). Wilson took over for center/guard Dan Wenger, who has been bothered by an ankle injury much of the season.

Alajajian, a redshirt sophomore from Naples, played in 10 regular-season games in 2011 and 29 games in his career. The Gator Bowl was his first start.

A five-star recruit out of St. Augustine-Nease, Wilson had logged only five starts due to stress fractures in his feet and multiple knee injuries before his unexpected promotion Monday. Xavier Nixon, a former starter, came in relief of Alajajian before sustaining a knee injury.

Defensively, senior William Green started in place of defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who sustained a season-ending knee injury against Florida State in the regular-season finale, which forced Floyd from his defensive end position to defensive tackle.

Brantley's last game

After five trying seasons, John Brantley's college football career is over. The senior from Ocala completed 12 of 16 passes for 132 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the 24-17 victory, a win that saved Florida from its first losing season since 1979.

“A lot of guys in our society nowadays when things don't go their way, the easiest thing to do is point a finger rather than look in the mirror,” Muschamp said of his quarterback. “A lot of times it's very difficult in our society nowadays for people to take the high road in a lot of situations. I tell you, John's done that.

“It's not always fair being the quarterback. I always say there is no different position than any other position that is. That's not really true. It is different. “You've got all eyes on you, and you get way too much credit when things go right, and way too much blame when things go wrong.

“So from that standpoint, John handles it. He doesn't complain. He doesn't point fingers. He handles it, and takes the criticism and moves to the next game.”

Baby-faced Gators

UF started 12 underclassmen in the Gator Bowl, an indication that part of Florida's decline can be attributed to lack of experience. The Gators listed 37 underclassmen on the pre-bowl two-deep, 24 sophomores, 13 freshmen.

Among those who made an impact Monday were sophomore safety Matt Elam (six tackles) and freshman cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who tallied five stops. Purifoy came in for starter Jaylen Watkins, who was “banged up,” Muschamp said.

In other injury news, Muschamp said Xavier Nixon hurt his knee and Chaz Green injured an ankle.

Extra points

The last time Florida played in the Gator Bowl was 1992 when Shane Matthews threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns during a 27-10 victory over N.C. State. … Florida's last losing season was 1979. The quarterback on that squad was Larry Ochab, a 23-year-old walk-on. John Brantley III, the father of current Gator QB John Brantley IV, quarterbacked the 1978 UF team that finished 4-7. The elder Brantley's team was coached by Doug Dickey. The '79 club was coached by Charley Pell. Also on those two squads was Cris Collinsworth, the former All-America receiver, who is now a broadcaster for NBC. … The 2012 Gator Bowl was Florida's 21st consecutive postseason appearance, a streak that ranks first in the SEC and second national to Florida State (30). Florida is 20-19 in its bowl history. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the game's honorary captain. The NASCAR star participated in the pre-game coin toss at midfield, driving his red No. 5 Nationwide Series car on to EverBank Field grass. It was his first college football game. … The announced attendance was 61,312.

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