Gators Start 2006 with Significant Win

The Gator football team needed this win for more reasons than I can list here. For Florida to move confidently into year two under Urban Meyer, the Gator coach had to show real progress over the previous three seasons. Another year of fewer than nine wins would not do it. A fourth consecutive loss in a bowl game would not do it.

Despite all the positive things that had happened off the field, it was finishing the deal ON the field that would determine the mindset for the Orange and Blue entering the off-season.

It started well with a blocked punt for a score, but despite two long drives the Gator offense had managed just three points. Florida let Iowa hang around well into the second quarter before Vernell Brown's interception return for a touchdown made it 17-zip. After the Gators allowed a late score, Meyer decided to go for it and added a TD pass with just a second left before intermission.

Fourth Quarter Shouldn't Have Mattered

A second Leak-to-Baker touchdown pass with 5:23 to play in the third quarter should have put this game away at 31-to-7. That was even more clear when an eight-yard Iowa punt set Florida up at their own 35. But that's when the Gators started making a succession of bad decisions. First, Florida calls four straight pass plays instead of taking time off the clock. But, hey… no harm done. Florida defense got a quick three-and-out and Iowa had to kick it away.


Chad Jackson (for the second time) tried to field the punt above his head… this time while back-pedaling and the result was a muff and Iowa ball at the four yard line. Iowa's score there wasn't that big a deal, especially after started a very nice drive. But for some reason, the Gators continually snapped the ball with anywhere from eight to 15 seconds left on the play clock with the game clock running. Eventually Florida completed a pass short of the first down that gave Iowa the ball back. Florida's failure to "milk the clock" meant the Hawkeyes got the ball back with 8:45 to play.

Iowa scored a relatively unabated touchdown in less than two minutes as Florida's defense went softer than Anna Nicole's spouse on the wedding night. For a moment there I was looking around for signs that it was 1994 and I was caught in a time warp at Doak Campbell stadium.

I wasn't.

But again Florida got the ball back and kept snapping it with time to spare. Meyer showed some real guts, faking a punt on fourth down, but the Gators didn't take much more time off the clock.


So it's 31-24 with 1:24 on the clock and Iowa needs to recover an on-side kick to have a chance. And they did. Florida again suffered a mental breakdown and let the ball bounce a second time, and the Hawkeyes caught it. But there was a flag on the play.

Iowa was ruled offside. While the replays on ESPN seemed to show Chad Greenway was not across the line, the angle was not a good one and would tend to make it look better from his standpoint. Only a shot right on the line would tell us if the Gators got the biggest officiating break in school history on that one. On the re-kick, Chad Jackson attacked the ball after one bounce and handled it easily and the Gators had their win.

Give The Man a Watch

Often the gift package for players and coaches from bowl games includes a commemorative watch. Perhaps the Gator staff can use theirs to learn some clock management. The Gators did almost everything right for almost three complete quarters only to damn-near flush the whole thing over the last 18 minutes or so.

But all criticism aside, this team was extraordinarily well prepared for the matchup with Iowa and played harder and smarter for most of the day. I absolutely loved the pass into the end zone at the end of the first half and the fake punt by Billy Latsko was the kind of gutsy call that harkens back to an earlier era. This team ended the year with wins over Florida State and Iowa and will be able to point to meaningful progress in the first year under Urban Meyer. Sure there's a lot of room for improvement, particularly in the area of on-field discipline and recognizing game situations. But this was a nine-or-ten win season when the season began and that's where they ended up.

And that's one more win than the last three Gator teams managed.

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