Tuesday, January 3, 2017

UF Football: Gators Win Outback Bowl!

For just the second time in school history (with Iowa again being the victim), the Florida Gators are Outback Bowl Champions! In their early afternoon matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes (8-5), the No. 17 Gators (9-4) ended the season on an extremely positive note with a dominating 30-3 victory.

In his final game as the Florida starting quarterback, Austin Appleby turned in a performance that Gator fans were content with. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. To be fair, both of Appleby's picks were tipped and not really his fault.

Though I was not too high on Appleby throughout most of the season, I will admit that him quarterbacking Florida to a bowl win earns him my approval. Among all the quarterbacks I have personally watched at Florida (Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg, Treon Harris, Will Grier, and Luke Del Rio), I can confidently say he was better than or equal to at least half of them.

In the ground game, Jordan Scarlett remained the lead back as he carried the ball 14 times for 94 yards. However, it would be JUCO transfer Mark Thompson who would make the explosive play out of the backfield.

With the game tied 3-3 and a little under two minutes to go in the first half, Thompson caught a screen pass on his own 15-yard line and took it 85 yards to the house for the game's first touchdown. It was his first reception for positive yards since the Arkansas game on November 5th, and was his first touchdown of any kind since the North Texas game on September 17th.

This would be one of two Appleby touchdown passes, as he found tight end DeAndre Goolsby at the end of the third quarter to stretch the lead to 17-3. Goolsby finished with just two total catches for 27 yards, while Thompson's touchdown was his lone reception of the contest.

Among the actual receivers in the wideout corps, only Antonio Callaway went off. He nabbed a team-leading seven balls for 55 yards with a long reception of 34 yards.

The offense gained a total of 331 yards and 11 first downs. They averaged 5.8 yards per play, 3.4 yards per rush, and 8.9 yards per pass attempt. In the red zone, they were 100% on two attempts. The offensive line gave up three sacks, but relatively gave Appleby a clean pocket to throw out of.

The Gator defense -headed by interim defensive coordinator Randy Shannon- finished how they started the year and feasted against the Hawkeyes. For the fourth time this season, they held a team to under 100 passing yards as Iowa only threw for 55.

As a whole, the Gators allowed 226 offensive yards. After holding Iowa to just a field goal on the second drive of the game, Florida locked in and wreaked havoc on their Big 10 foe and quarterback C.J. Beathard.

Interceptions were the name of the game as true freshman Chauncey Gardner had two of them in the fourth quarter! His first pick came in the first minute of the quarter, and he ran 58 yards back to push Florida's lead to 24-3. It was his second career interception and first collegiate touchdown.

A couple drives later, Chauncey picked off another pass and nearly had another pick-six as he took it 30 yards to the Iowa seven-yard line. It would set up a Florida field goal that would extend the lead to 27-3.

For his two-pick performance, Chauncey was named the MVP of the Outback Bowl. This may very well have been his coming out party, and if that's the case then the future looks bright for Florida's secondary.

The other Gator to record an interception was senior linebacker Daniel McMillian. His pick came on Iowa's ensuing drive following Chauncey's second interception and he was able to take it 23 yards to the Iowa 36-yard line. This return would set up the final field goal of the day to make it 30-3 Florida.

McMillian was the second-leading tackler on the team as he had seven tackles. He trailed only defensive back Marcell Harris, who had nine wrap ups and one tackle for loss. Harris's biggest tackle came on fourth and goal at the start of the second quarter.

With the Gators down 3-0, the redshirt junior stuffed running back LeShun Daniels at the one-yard line to keep the Hawkeyes out of the end zone.

The only Gator to record a sack on the day was defensive lineman Caleb Brantley, who notched three tackles in the contest. Some other defensive dignitaries worth noting are linebacker Vosean Joseph with six tackles (1 TFL) and a pass breakup, an absolute hero at linebacker in Cristian Garcia with five tackles, and defensive lineman Joey Ivie with five tackles (1 TFL) as well.

Special Teams
I talked about the Gators setting up field goals all day but let's talk about the man who made them. Kicker Eddy Pineiro absolutely balled in this game. His 44-yarder was the Gators' opening score in the first quarter and he went on to nail both a 25-yarder and a game long 48-yarder in the fourth quarter. He was a perfect 3/3 on extra point attempts.

In the kickoff aspect, Pineiro once again proved his leg strength as he boomed an 80-yard kickoff from his own 20-yard line. He was only kicking this deep due to an unsportsmanlike penalty that resulted from Chauncey Gardener's pick-six. This would be one of two kickoffs returned on the day as five of Eddy's seven kicks were touchbacks.

In the punting realm, my boy Johnny Townsend continued to kill it. Johnny punted four times and averaged 45.5 yards per kick. He pinned Iowa inside their own 20-yard line twice and his longest punt went 51 yards.

It's an absolute shame he was not even named a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, as he is hands down one of the best punters in the country. Nevertheless, Johnny logged in another great performance!

Final Takeaway
As a Gator graduate, I can depart from UF with an even bigger smile on my face! Florida's bowl win proved me wrong (which I'm not at all ashamed to admit) and prevented the 2016 season from ending the exact same way that 2015 did.

This Gator team came out here wanting to prove something, and boy did they. Although the offense was more or less its usual self, the defense throttled Iowa and made a case for Randy Shannon to be the next Florida defensive coordinator. For the most part I am onboard with this idea, but ultimately that's a decision that will be left to Coach McElwain, the staff, and Shannon himself.

It is such a great feeling to see my Gators win a bowl game, and I hope that this can progress into a New Year's Six Bowl somewhere down the road. For Austin Appleby and 12 seniors, this is a great sendoff. Some will be off to the NFL Draft while others will be using their degrees to find jobs in the real world.

Regardless of where they go, I want to thank the 2016 senior class for their hard work and effort. Whether they played in every game or never saw the field, they should be thanked immensely for how much work they put into helping this program return to national relevance in the near future.

For Coach Mac, this is where the real test begins. After essentially posting two 10-win seasons in his first two years at Florida (Presbyterian this season would have been a win let's be real), Mac will definitely have some pressure put on him to win now that HIS quarterback will be leading the charge.

I think he will thrive under this pressure though, and Florida will be in the College Football Playoff hunt every year that Mac coaches here. It's been great watching him these last two years and my Gators the last four.

I have no idea if this is my last Gator football game recap or not with law school looming ahead. If it is, then it has been an absolute blast recapping Gator football these last four years. Through the good and the bad, writing about this team has given me such an understanding and appreciation of this team that I would not have had as an ordinary fan.

I pride myself in knowing the history of my teams, and as a former Miami Hurricanes fan I think I did a pretty good job learning Gator football history and embracing it as my own. I love this school with all my heart, and will never forget the many incredible moments at The Swamp. I'll root for this team until God calls me home, and I'll support them in all kinds of weather.

Whether we go 15-0 with a national championship or 0-12 with every single player injured, I will always say that it is indeed great to be a Florida Gator! Go Gators! 2017 Outback Bowl Champions!

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com



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