Florida football remained a contender for the SEC title game into mid-November, and most important of all ended the season on a very positive surge with a season-ending win over Florida State and an Outback Bowl win over Iowa.
The Meyer era began rather unspectacularly with wins over Wyoming (32-14) and Louisiana Tech (41-3). The wins over decent teams were solid enough, but certainly not dominant. But the big tests were about to come.
A Solid "B" on Test # 1
The Tennessee Volunteers came to town ranked #4 in the nation. While that turned out to be a rather absurd projection, the boys from Rocky Top were certainly capable. Florida ended up in a tough, defensive struggle until Chris Leak led the team on a decisive scoring drive. Chris Hetland nailed three field goals and the Gators had a 16-7 win.
Those who wanted to see the Gator offense as an exciting, wide-open scoring machine got their wish in week four when Florida ran up 49 points in the first half at Kentucky. Curiously, Florida didn't score again and held on for a 49-28 decision. Jemalle Cornelius had a career day with eight receptions for 138 yards and DeShawn Wynn scored four touchdowns for the second time in his career. The Gators were 4-0 and faced a big game at Alabama to start the month of October.
Rolled By Tide
The Gators' fifth game of the season was the worst performance of the year for the Orange and Blue. Alabama hit a long TD pass for an early lead and converted a UF turnover for another score, going up 14-zip after just five minutes of play. Florida never got into the contest and was destroyed 31-3.
A little revenge was on the menu the next week as Mississippi State came to The Swamp. The Gators dominated the line of scrimmage, time of possession, total offense and so on, but needed a fourth quarter TD pass to Dallas Baker and blocked punt to finally put the game out of reach.
The 5-1Gators were totally outplayed for the second time in three weeks when LSU hosted Florida the next week. For the second straight road game, the Gators fell behind 14-0 right away, but this time Florida rallied behind the running of DeShawn Wynn and Kestahn Moore and took the lead entering the fourth quarter. However once again, LSU ruined a Gator effort by turning to Joseph Addai in the final minutes and LSU got the win, 21-17.
Stretch Run Starts Off Great
The Gators began the final phase of the season beating Georgia 14-10 in an odd game in Jacksonville. The Gator offense looked great, going 80 yards on 13 plays on their first possession and taking advantage of Vernell Brown's 29-yard punt return to go 41 yards for another TD. But the Gators did not score again, the next seven possessions ending in six punts and a fumble. But the Gator defense was equal to the task, and the fourth-ranked Dogs were beaten.
That superb defensive effort was followed by a pretty lousy one as the Gators outscored Vanderbilt 49-42 in overtime. The Gators led 35-21 after a Markus Manson TD run with 4:11 to play, but Vandy quarterback Jay Cutler faced no resistance in two lightning quick drives with an on-sides kick recovery in between. If not for a shady celebration penalty the Commodores would gave gone for two points and the win. After Vandy made it four straight scores on the first overtime possession, the Gators responded with two of their own. With Vanderbilt looking for another TD, Reggie Lewis made the play of his career to intercept the pass and seal the deal.
After losing to South Carolina (See big story #6) the Gators faced a must-win against Florida State. A victory would assure Florida an 8-win regular season and complete a Tennessee, Georgia, FSU trifecta. A loss would show no tangible progress from the previous three seasons.
Not to worry.
The Gators scored two second quarter TD's for a 14-0 halftime lead and the Gator defense owned the day, holding FSU to 15 yards or less on eight of their first nine possessions. The dominance continued in the second half and Florida led 34-0 with ten minutes to play. Florida had not simply won, they had dominated.
The second ended in Tampa where the Gators were embarrassed two years earlier by these very same Iowa Hawkeyes. The Gators led all the way, pushing it to 17-zip on a Vernell Brown interception return. The Gators led 31-7 after three quarters before a muffed punt by Chad Jackson started an Iowa comeback. Florida ended up needing a fake punt and a fortuitous call on an on-sides kick to hold on for the win.
Year one under Urban Meyer showed some promise for the Florida Gators who had some great performances on either side of the ball and some sensational portions of games. The Gators really had just one complete performance all year against a quality team (FSU) but also played incredibly well at times against other ranked teams. The season showed Urban Meyer and his staff can get ready for the best the schedule has to offer. That's why it's our choice for the #3 story of the year.