NEW ORLEANS -- Round 2 in the Bayou was a knockout for Florida, which likely secured its first national championship and some sweet revenge on Florida State with a 52-20 pounding of the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl last night.
Danny Wuerffel, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who was pushed around by the Seminoles during a regular-season loss, threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as coach Steve Spurrier's team, which entered ranked No. 3, picked apart the No. 1 Seminoles and bettered the Sugar Bowl scoring record the Gators set three years ago.
Florida's unheralded defense, meanwhile, put the clamps on Warrick Dunn and company, as Florida State couldn't solve the Gators on either side of the ball before 78,344, the largest crowd to watch a football game at the Superdome.
The outcome muted last year's embarrassing 62-24 loss to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, and also made amends for Florida's 24-21 loss in Tallahassee on Nov. 30.
After that game, which bounced the Gators out of the No. 1 spot and elevated Florida State, Spurrier squawked about the Seminoles' treatment of Wuerffel, who completed 18 of 34 passes for 304 yards last night. He'll hear some complaints about his anticipated No. 1 ranking, since there are four other teams with one loss, but Florida played like the best team in the country last night.
Florida's opening was created by No. 2 Arizona State's loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, which gave the Sugar Bowl the
national championship game it was promised by the Bowl Alliance.
The Gators (12-1) had a 24-10 lead heading into the last two minutes of the first half. Florida State got the difference down to 24-20 four minutes into the third quarter, but Florida stiffened its resolve, got some more big plays in the punting game, and ran off and hid with two touchdowns in the last six minutes of the third quarter.
The first required only a 24-yard drive, and followed pivotal punts. On the first, Florida State failed to field Robby Stevenson's kick for the second time in the game, and had to take over on its 3. Four plays later, Florida's Jacquez fielded a Sean Liss punt at the 50, and returned it 26 yards.
After a 17-yard run by Fred Taylor, Wuerffel went back to Ike Hilliard, who tied a Sugar Bowl record with his third touchdown, on an 8-yard slant that made it 31-20 with 5: 43 left in the third quarter.
After Florida State ran three plays and punted for the seventh time, Florida showed it could run the ball too, as scrambled for a 16-yard touchdown with 3: 50 left in the quarter to make it 38-20.
The carnage continued with 8: 52 to go, when Terry Jackson took a pitch from Wuerffel and rambled 42 yards to make it 45-20. Florida State lost its cool at that point and was hit with three late penalties that set up Florida's final touchdown, a 1-yard dive by Jackson on fourth down that will only add to ill will between the two schools.
In addition to it being the highest-scoring Sugar Bowl ever, it was also the most penalized.
The pre-game hype centered on Florida State's fierce pass rush, which gloated about its six sacks of Wuerffel in the regular season. Spurrier had Wuerffel in the shotgun much of the game, which slowed the Seminoles, and the Gators' pass rush was just as hard on Florida State quarterback Thad Busby.
Florida also did a superb job taking Dunn out of the game, as the Florida State tailback was limited to 28 yards rushing in the first half. He left the game midway through the third quarter with muscle cramps, and the Seminoles didn't score again.
Florida State (11-1) had its record run of bowl victories stopped at 11 games. Bobby Bowden's team figures to keep its other amazing streak going, the one which has had Florida State ranked among the top four teams the last nine seasons.
Florida twice built 14-point leads in the first half, but each time the Seminoles came back with touchdowns of their own, and the Gators' cushion was only 24-17 at the half.
The first half didn't have a stylish start, but it ended wildly, as Dunn capped a 77-second, 66-yard drive with a 12-yard run with 40 seconds left. Florida came right back to its own 41-yard line, before Wuerffel's ill-advised lob was intercepted by Vernon Crawford.
It was the only turnover in the first half, but there were plenty of other mistakes, some physical, most mental.
When Florida State beat Florida, 24-21, in Tallahassee on Nov. 30, the Seminoles used a blocked punt as the catalyst for their first touchdown, a lead that eventually grew to 17-0. This time, it was Florida State that made mistakes in the kicking game that helped the Gators control field position for much of the half.
Florida State started hot again, as Busby found flanker Andre Cooper for 55 yards on a fly pattern on the game's first snap, but the Seminoles quickly stalled and found themselves in a quick hole when Wuerffel, operating primarily out of the shotgun, moved the Gators 77 yards for a touchdown on their first possession.