Terps feel Orange crush

Fifth-ranked Gators pile up 659 total yards to rout No. 6 Maryland

Friedgen: `I'm embarrassed'

Off bench, Grossman throws for four TDs

Terps end season 10-2

Orange Bowl : FLORIDA 56, MARYLAND 23

January 03, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - Down the road, Maryland's football program should be better for its Orange Bowl appearance.

But the learning experience was humbling last night, as the No. 6 Terrapins received a 56-23 beating from fifth-ranked Florida before 73,640 at Pro Player Stadium.

The here and now was a display of dominance by the Gators (10-2), who overcame the disappointment of a loss to Tennessee at the end of the season and the distraction of quarterback Rex Grossman's surprise benching because of a curfew violation.

It was an insufficient hindrance against the Terps (10-2), who had become the Cinderella team of the Bowl Championship Series by dint of an 11-year bowl drought that ended when they won the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Grossman, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, emerged from the sideline and coach Steve Spurrier's doghouse in the second quarter, throwing for 248 yards and four touchdowns, as Florida's offense set Orange Bowl records for passing yards (456) and total yards (659).

"I'm not proud of the way we played tonight. I'm embarrassed," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I thought we could play better than that. I'm real disappointed for the fans who have supported us all year."

It was a painful end to a dream season for the Terps, who hadn't won a league title since 1985 and entered the season picked to finish seventh in the conference.

This was a reflection of a new leader in his first head coaching job and inheriting a squad that had gone 5-6 in 2000 and was losing its two most talented players, LaMont Jordan and Kris Jenkins.

While six wins was the common prediction for Friedgen's first season, the Terps won their first seven games, led by ACC Players of the Year Bruce Perry and E.J. Henderson.

After defeating N.C. State in its last game of the regular season, Maryland clinched the ACC title to qualify for a BCS berth and eventually the Orange Bowl.

Florida was an unexpected participant, originally projected to play for the national championship. That goal was still in reach until the Gators lost to Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee in their last game of the season.

In contrast to the Maryland elation - as evidenced by the 22,000 tickets it sold to the game - Florida's malaise was seen as a possible loophole through which the Terps could run to another surprise win.

But Florida proved too fast and too strong.

"It's not a great way to go out," said Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson, "but I think we had a great season."

The Gators' third receiver, Taylor Jacobs, was voted game MVP after catching 10 passes for 170 yards, both Orange Bowl records. Jabar Gaffney caught two touchdowns passes, and tailback Earnest Graham ran for 149 yards and two scores.

Brock Berlin, the highly touted sophomore from Shreveport, La., turned in a mixed performance in his first start for the Gators. He passed for 152 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter but was replaced by Grossman after throwing his second interception.

"Brock did OK," Spurrier said of Berlin. "But we just thought it was time for Rex to go in there."

Grossman entered with 6:03 left in the second quarter and Florida ahead 14-10. He led the Gators to touchdowns on his first six series.

"I didn't know when I was going to get in, or if I was going to get in at all," Grossman said. "The first thing I wanted to do was score points fast. We got on a roll, and then the defense got the ball back for us."

Spurrier had benched Grossman and another starter, defensive end Bobby McCray, for curfew violations that he termed "clear breakdowns" of team rules. He started Berlin, who had nearly beaten out Grossman for the starting role before the season. Berlin's only experience had come while mopping up during Florida's blowout wins.

None of it mattered, as the game went just about the way many predicted when the matchup was announced Dec. 9. In a reprise of a 52-31 loss to Florida State, Maryland's secondary was found wanting when confronted with an elite passing attack, and the team's offense couldn't do much against Florida's defense.

"Rex played his best game of the year," Spurrier said. "The offensive line played their best game of the year, too. Our wide receivers and running backs ran past them pretty good."

The Terps were supposed to get a boost from the return of cornerback Tony Okanlawon, who had been absent with a non-football-related medical condition when they allowed Florida State's Chris Rix to throw for 350 yards and five touchdowns in the Oct. 27 loss in Tallahassee.

But even with Maryland employing a minimum of five defensive backs and sending at least four different non-defensive line players into the backfield, Berlin was able to make big plays.

Jacobs was Berlin's main target, with catches of 23 and 34 yards during the Gators' first scoring drive. The second of those two catches - on third-and-23 - set up Graham's 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 9:51 left in the first quarter.

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