Florida gets swamped in the desert, falling to Oregon State in Las Vegas Bowl - Whitley
The Oakland Raiders’ motto was “Just Win, Baby!” At the NFL’s team’s new home in Las Vegas, the Florida Gators adopted a new battle cry Saturday.
Just Score, Baby!
The celebratory news for UF fans is the Gators did indeed score. It was only three points, and it took more than 59 minutes for them to arrive, and Oregon State already had 30 points to show for its afternoon.
But the nation’s longest consecutive-game scoring streak lives. Florida has now scored in 436 straight games, thanks to Adam Mihalek’s 40-yard field goal with 37 seconds left.
UF-Oregon State Takeaways:Sin City Stumble: 5 takeaways from Florida's 30-3 loss to No. 16 Oregon State in Las Vegas Bowl
Savor that if you will, Gator fans. There wasn’t much else to enjoy in UF’s debut on the Strip.
It might have been the worst Las Vegas opening since “Liberace on Ice.” Everybody knows things could get dicey for the Gators, what with about one-fourth of the roster in the transfer portal or heading for the NFL.
Nobody expected the utter offensive futility that unfolded at Allegiant Stadium. Good teams can muster more than seven yards of total offense in the second and third quarters of games.
The Gators finished the season nowhere close to good. It’s hard to gauge a squad that was missing so many key players Saturday. I don’t think it was a preview of things to come, since the roster turnstile will be spinning quite a bit between now and next September.
Napier's first season at Florida ends with 6-7 record
But staggering in with three straight losses to finish 6-7 wasn’t the confidence-building finish Billy Napier needed heading into the offseason.
"The key is we learn from these experiences,” he said. “Not only the players, but all parts of our organization. We'll turn the page and work harder than ever."
One thing we learned from Saturday’s experience is that Jack Miller isn’t a miracle worker. It was hard enough starting after not taking a snap since October.
Miller showed composure and elusiveness. But he had no chance against a defense that totally devoured Florida’s running game.
"I thought he showed some toughness and grit,” Napier said. "It's a tough dynamic, and one he took on.”
The Gators will undoubtedly go QB shopping in the portal. And they’ll need to find some receivers and offensive linemen. They found out Saturday how much they might miss All-American guard O’Cyrus Torrence clearing the way for running backs.
Defensively, UF hung in reasonably against the Beavers. The Gators trailed only 10-0 at halftime, thanks to a blocked field goal on the final play of the half.
They forced a three-and-out to start the second half, but Oregon State faked the punt and cruised in for a TD. The Beavers then blocked a punt and got the ball at Florida’s 7-yard line.
Two plays later, it was 24-0. Then it was just a question of whether the Gators would keep their scoring streak alive.
Ronald Reagan was president last time UF shut out
They hadn’t been shut out since Oct. 19, 1988. That covered seven presidential administrations and nine coaches, including Will Muschamp.
As if choreographed by a Vegas producer, it came down to the final drive. Florida had a 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line, and Trevor Etienne was stuffed for no gain.
That was followed by a fumbled snap. Then a sack.
Napier indicated he would have gone for a touchdown if the Gators had been near the goal line. But at 4th-and-23, even the dumbest gambler in Vegas would not have bet on UF to score a TD.
Napier made the right call.
"Take the points,’ he said, “and give Adam a chance to get some experience."
It was undoubtedly the most dramatic kick in bowl history by a team down by 30 points.
“What a moment!” ESPN’s Pat McAfee bellowed. “Drink it down. Soak it in, Mihalik!”
A lot of other people, including Kirk Herbstreit, thought it was embarrassing that UF kicked the field goal. But coming through in that situation might pay off down the line for Mihalik.
Such are the things Florida will have to take from this wayward season.
“We’re going to learn from today,” Napier said. “That’s the key. Fuel for the fire.”
One thing we learned for sure. When a team is happy to just score, it has a long way to go.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.