Matthews, a junior who was fifth-string when Spurrier took over in Gainesville, didn't have one of those sparkling days that earned him SEC Player of the Year honors in '90. He did, however, account for the game-winning points. After being flushed from the pocket midway through the third quarter, Matthews rolled to his right and lofted a pass downfield. At the Florida State 43, wide receiver Houston went up for the ball with Seminole linebacker Reggie Freeman. Freeman stumbled and Houston made the catch and then dashed unmolested into the end zone to give Florida a 14-3 lead. "No way I was supposed to go to the right on that play," said Matthews. "All I remember is seeing Houston out there and a big guy chasing him."
Spurrier encourages such spontaneity. He believes that the game belongs to the players and that it should be fun. Shocking, huh? Of course, this freewheeling approach occasionally leads him to make decisions that go against the book. But so what? His players seem to love him for it.
Although the Gators weren't their normal high-scoring selves, they outplayed Florida State more than top-ranked, unbeaten Miami had. So is Florida better than Miami? Unfortunately, we'll never know, because the Hurricanes will meet Big Eight champ and 11th-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, where the Hurricanes have won 44 games in a row.
"I'm hoping that some of you sports-writers say that Florida is the Number One team in the state," said Spurrier. "I lobbied for Miami to play us in the Sugar Bowl. But I'm not blaming them for what they did, because that's their best avenue to the national championship."
So even if Florida, which is now ranked third, beats thrice-beaten Notre Dame in New Orleans, the national title is a long shot for the best Gator team ever. Not only must Miami lose to Nebraska but also No. 4 Michigan must knock off No. 2 Washington as well. Even then the voters may go with the Wolverines for having beaten a more formidable opponent than Notre Dame. That must be frustrating for Spurrier, but he can take solace in the fact that he already has done wonders in Gainesville, and reflect on how nice it is that Florida is not only as good as any team in the nation, but it's clean, too.