Nov. 26, 2005
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Despite three losses and failing to reach the Southeastern Conference title game, Urban Meyer’s first season at Florida can now be called successful.
Or at the very least, a good start.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Drew Weatherford, and special teams scored a touchdown.
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.
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.
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.