Florida receivers are tough to catch

Maryland defenders had no answers for Gators' 3 wide-outs

Orange Bowl : Florida 56, Maryland 23

January 03, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- In order to pull off an upset in last night's Orange Bowl, the Maryland Terrapins first and foremost had to find a way to slow down the nation's most feared passing attack.

In the end, the Terps had no chance, as the most lopsided mismatch on paper at Pro Player Stadium -- the Gators' receivers vs. the Terps' secondary -- came to fruition in a contest that turned out to be no contest.

One of the more lasting images of Florida's 56-23 trouncing of Maryland will be those of wide-outs Taylor Jacobs, Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell doing whatever they pleased for more than three hours before 73,640 spectators.

"Those guys are great players," said Maryland cornerback/safety Dennard Wilson. "Their receivers ran great, precision routes on us. They have great speed while they're making their cuts. I wanted to play step for step with them."

It didn't matter which quarterback was throwing the ball for the Gators. Brock Berlin started in place of Rex Grossman, who missed a team curfew last week and sat out the game's first 24 minutes. Berlin showed an NFL-caliber arm while staking Florida to a 14-10 lead, but also threw two interceptions that gave Maryland hope in the first half, allowing the Terps to get within four points.

Grossman needed no time to prove why he is a starter who came so close to winning the Heisman Trophy. He completed 20 of 28 passes, rang up 248 yards and four touchdowns and seemingly got everyone involved who was capable of catching a pass.

But the more one watched that trio of wide-outs weave their way through whatever man-to-man or zone alignments or nickel and dime packages the Terps threw at them, the more apparent it seemed that Florida coach Steve Spurrier could have suited up and added some numbers to the scoreboard.

To get an idea of how good the Gators' receiving corps is, consider that Jacobs, the 6-foot, 195-pound junior who earned the game's MVP award, came into the game as Florida's No. 3 receiver. Then again, he had made his modest 38-reception season count by averaging a team-high 18.7 yards a catch.

Last night, Jacobs looked like another future NFL receiver from Gainesville, as he caught 10 passes for an Orange Bowl-record 170 yards and two touchdowns.

Gaffney played a serious second fiddle to Jacobs, grabbing seven passes for another 118 yards and two more touchdowns. Caldwell was relatively quiet, although his four receptions for 47 yards kept scoring drives moving.

Ultimately, the game came down to athletic superiority, and proved once again nothing can replace sheer speed. Mix in the ability to break tackles, catch the ball in tough coverage and exploit holes in the secondary to create big plays, and you have a Florida highlight reel.

The Terps had hoped cornerbacks Tony Okanlawon and Curome Cox and safeties Tony Jackson and Randall Jones, with help from backups like Wilson and safety Ty Stewart, could keep the Gators' Big Three from going wild. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen tried putting pressure on the Florida quarterbacks to create turnovers.

"If you pressure them, you put yourself in one-on-one [man-to-man]. We did that early, and we'd rather do that than do the other," Friedgen said. "Eventually, they're going to get you. Sometimes, we won. Sometimes, they won. But when they won, it usually was six points."

Once Grossman entered the game with a 14-10 lead and six minutes left in the first half, the Gators receivers took over, including their running backs. When Gaffney leaped over Cox to snare a four-yard touchdown pass, giving the Gators a 28-10 halftime lead, Maryland's fate was sealed.

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