Worst 'Big Game' Performance Ever

When you cover a team as long as I've covered the Florida Gators, you are going to see some horrific performances. It's the nature of the beast. No matter how good a program is, there will be times when it lays a collective egg that will last in the memory of those who see it for years.

Saturday night was one of those times. The Florida Gators not only failed to compete in the biggest game of the year. The Gators authored up a historically bad effort with the SEC East title and a berth in the SEC Championship Game on the line. After extensive review, I've concluded that the 36-14 loss to South Carolina surpasses two other notable failures as the worst performance in a big game situation in Florida history.

Here's my take on the three most notable such games.

No. 3 --- 1995 Fiesta Bowl --- The Gators were unbeaten and slight favorites over a powerful Nebraska team that also had a boatload of talent. Steve Spurrier insisted on going empty backfield and Nebraska insisted on sending six rushers, defying Florida to exploit individual man coverage. The Gators couldn't. On the other side of the ball the ‘Huskers plowed through the Gators with ease rushing for an incredible 524 yards. The 62-24 loss ranks only No. 3 in my list because the opponent was so good.

No. 2 --- 1999 SEC Championship Game --- The Gators and Crimson Tide had played an exhilarating game in Gainesville during the regular season with ‘Bama taking a 40-39 win in overtime. Florida's failure to finish off that game was made extra painful by the Gators 34-7 lay down in Atlanta. Doug Johnson was hurt and Jesse Palmer had an awful day completing just 7-of-20 for 80 yards with three interceptions. The Gators scored on their opening possession but never threatened to cross the goal line again. The defense hung in there as long as it could --- it was 15-7 entering the fourth quarter --- but a Freddie Milons 77-yard run followed by a pick-six ended any chance for late game heroics.

No. 1 --- 2010 SEC East "Title Game" --- This is the worst of the three for a number of reasons. First, South Carolina is nowhere near the caliber of the other two opponents mentioned here. Second, the Gators managed just 67 yards in the first three quarters while South Carolina had 347. Third, it came at home in front of a rabid crowd of 90,000-plus. And finally, it came against the man who made Florida football a national power. The Gators were only down 9-7 after the opening quarter, but it sure felt a lot worse. It was 15-7 at the half and it felt even worse than that. By the time the Gators scored their first offensive touchdown, the stands looked like so many visiting stadiums that Steve Spurrier emptied out during his 12 years at the helm of the Gator program. Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks are headed to Atlanta while the Gators are headed back to the drawing board… again.

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