Florida destroys Syracuse 31-10 in Orange Bowl
Posted: Saturday January 09, 1999 02:36 PM
MIAMI (CNN/SI) -- Florida may have been eliminated from national championship consideration early in the season, but the Gators showed exactly how potent and deep its offense really is.
Doug Johnson broke his leg in the second quarter after throwing two TD passes, but the Gators hardly missed a beat in smacking around Syracuse 31-10 in the Orange Bowl.
The appearance in the Orange Bowl was the first for the Gators since 1967 when Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy. Florida beat Georgia Tech that year, but he didn't have an exceptionally good game.
"I didn't get a game ball in 1967, so I gave one to myself tonight," Spurrier said. He also awarded one to interim defensive coordinator Bob Sanders.
Johnson was injured late in the second quarter. Palmer, the starter for six games before breaking his collarbone on October 10, threw his TD pass for a 21-3 lead on his second play.
The victory enabled Florida (10-2) to finish with at least 10 victories for the sixth straight season. The Gators' only losses were to national champion Tennessee and Florida State, who will played for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl.
"We lost to No. 1 and No. 2, didn't really play our best games. But that happens," said Spurrier, who led Florida to one national championship and five Southeastern Conference titles this decade.
"We fought back and won 10 games, but we're still disappointed. We'd like to be ordering championship rings in the next few weeks like we've done in the past. We've gone two years without winning one. But hopefully we can get back to winning championships real soon."
The Gators stated their case for a top-5 finish with 441 total yards and a defense that contained Donovan McNabb and limited Syracuse (8-4) to a second-quarter field goal until Maurice Jackson's 62-yard TD reception with just over three minutes to go.
Travis Taylor caught both of Johnson's TD passes and had seven receptions for 159 yards to earn most valuable player honors. Terry Jackson rushed for 108 yards on 21 carries in his first extensive action since severely spraining an ankle midway through the season.
The defense, meanwhile, answered the question of whether it would be affected by the departure of defensive coordinator Bob Stoops, who left in November to coach Oklahoma.
Florida forced four turnovers -- including three by McNabb, who fumbled twice and threw one interception in his final college game. He completed 14 of 30 passes for 192 yards and rushed for 72 yards on 20 attempts.
"When you play poorly, there's usually a reason ... They took us out of the game," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "It seemed that whenever we got something going, we'd turn it over."
Florida State held the Gators to a season-low 204 yards, using as many as eight defensive backs to blanket the Gators' talented receivers.
But Syracuse lacked the depth to try the same approach. And with the Orangemen also unable to mount a consistent pass rush, Johnson and Palmer had lots of time to find their targets.
Johnson led two quick-strike drives in the opening quarter. His 51-yard TD pass to Taylor finished an 84-yard march lasting 39 seconds, and Taylor scored again on the Gators' next possession when he broke a tackle at the 15 to finish a 26-yard play for a 14-0 lead.
The second drive, covering 68 yards, lasted 40 seconds -- giving Florida 18 scoring drives of less a minute and 28 of less than two minutes this season.
Johnson completed his first six passes and finished 12-of-17 for 195 yards. Palmer was just as hot on his first two series, throwing a 4-yard TD pass to Erron Kinney on his first attempt and completing his next four to set up his 2-yard scoring run that put the Gators up 28-3 at the half.
Meanwhile, the Florida defense put the clamps on McNabb, the three-time Big East offensive player of the year. The Gators forced a first-quarter fumble by the Syracuse quarterback, and Tony George's second-quarter interception led to Palmer's TD.
Johnson was injured late in the second quarter when he was hit by Syracuse's Marc Pilon and twisted to the ground after releasing an 18-yard completion to Nafis Karim.
Spurrier said the junior will be on crutches four to six weeks.
"There was an opening, and I got a good hit on him," Pilon said. "I didn't know he was hurt."
McNabb, disappointed in the way he played, defended the decision to invite the Orangemen despite having three regular-season losses. "The critics can say all they want," he said. "Kansas State is supposed to be here, yet they lost to Purdue [in the Alamo Bowl]. You can't please everyone."
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.