(19) Florida 34, (23) Florida St. 7
November 26, 2005
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Urban Meyer's first season at Florida started out promising, turned disappointing and ultimately became successful.
At least compared to recent years.
Chris Leak threw two touchdown passes, the defense created four turnovers and the No. 19 Gators overwhelmed 23rd-ranked Florida State 34-7 Saturday at The Swamp.
"There's a lot of juice right now from that win," Meyer said.
Florida (8-3) finished undefeated at home for the first time since 2000 and knocked off its top three rivals -- Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State -- in the same season for the first time since 1996.
"That's a big feat," Meyer said. "Our players really thrived on that. They brought it up often."
The Gators also assured themselves of not losing five games for the fourth consecutive year.
The Seminoles (7-4) may have reached a new low under longtime coach Bobby Bowden, losing three in a row for the first time since 1983.
"With the talent on this squad, to go out and play like we did is real embarrassing," quarterback Drew Weatherford said.
Florida State still has a chance to turn the season around, though. It can win the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference championship game next week in Jacksonville and advance to the Orange Bowl.
But few would believe that possible after FSU's last three games: losses to North Carolina State, Clemson and Florida. The Seminoles were outscored 89-36 in those contests.
"I told them we got a ball game next week as big as this one," Bowden said. "That's all you can do when you get beat."
Florida's victory against its in-state rival was the most lopsided in the series since a 52-20 win in the 1997 Sugar Bowl, which gave the Gators their lone national title.
Florida won this one with its most complete game of the season. The offense sustained long drives, the defense delivered constant pressure on Weatherford, and special teams scored a key touchdown.
"This goes down as a real big win," said Meyer, who replaced Ron Zook after three tumultuous seasons that dropped the Gators from being one of the premier programs in the Southeastern Conference. "There's a lot to take from this."
Meyer said the victory would give his team momentum heading into a bowl game, help recruiting and energize the offseason -- and help the Gators overcome the disappointment that came from blowing a chance to win the SEC East two weeks ago at South Carolina.
"Obviously, we're here to play for championships. That didn't get done, but to go out and get a win against Florida State is huge," linebacker Todd McCullough said. "That's something this team can build on."
Added center Mike Degory: "Anytime there's a change made, it takes a little time. The wheels are in motion. You guys only see the tip of the iceberg. But there's a lot going on under the water. This thing is heading in the right direction."
The Gators dictated the direction of the game early.
Leak capped a 71-yard drive with an 8-yard TD pass to Chad Jackson on the first play of the second quarter.
Jackson finished with nine catches for 97 yards. Leak wasn't particularly precise, with several overthrows and underthrows, but he 19-of-28 for 211 yards.
Leak threw an interception on the next possession, giving Florida State great field position at the Florida 27, but the defense forced a 45-yard field goal attempt.
The kick turned out to be disastrous for the Seminoles. Marcus Thomas split two linemen and blocked the low kick with his left hand. Reggie Lewis picked it up on one hop and returned it 52 yards for a score and a 14-0 lead.
"Gigantic," Meyer said. "The play of the day. That was the momentum switch."
Chris Hetland kicked a field goal in the third quarter to make it 17-0, then the Gators pulled away with 17 points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter -- all following turnovers.
"It seemed like turnovers were our downfall," Bowden said.
Hetland's second field goal followed an interception by Jarvis Herring near the goal line. Herring stepped in front of Weatherford's floating pass on first-and-10 at the 14. The Gators drove 63 yards to set up Hetland's 34-yarder.
Leon Washington fumbled two plays later, then Leak hit Dallas Baker for a 15-yard score that put Florida up 27-0.
The Seminoles fumbled again a few possessions later, and Markus Manson capped another drive with a 2-yard TD run.
Florida State avoided a shutout when Weatherford connected with De'Cody Fagg for a 6-yard score with 6:35 to play. Weatherford finished 24-of-42 for 285 yards. He was sacked five times and hurried on nearly every passing play.
"We made sure we kept hitting him," Florida defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "We took him out of the his rhythm."
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