Terps feel Orange crush

Quick-strike offense lifts No. 5 Florida to rout of 6th-ranked UM

Grossman: 4 TD passes

Benched QB's return puts Gators in gear

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 experience.

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's benching was the big story before the game. The sophomore's return in the second quarter last night and subsequent blitzing of the Maryland secondary was the big story afterward.

The Heisman Trophy runner-up emerged from the sideline and coach Steve Spurrier's doghouse, throwing for 248 yards and four touchdowns, as Florida's offense racked up an Orange Bowl-record 659 total yards.

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

"Brock did OK," Spurrier said of Berlin, who was 11-for-19 for 196 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. "But we just thought it was time for Rex to go in there."

Grossman, benched because he missed curfew by 30 minutes Friday night, 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 was pacing up and down the sideline," Grossman said. "When I got in there, I tried to play smart and everybody played well around me.

"I know I don't ever want to sit again. It's motivation for getting things right."

Spurrier had benched Grossman and another starter, defensive end Bobby McCray, for curfew violations that he termed "clear breakdowns" of the team's rules. He instead starter Berlin, who had nearly beaten out Grossman for the starting role, but also someone whose only experience had come in the mop-up moments of 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 in late October, 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.

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.

Taylor 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 Earnest Graham's 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 9:51 left in the first quarter.

Jacobs put Florida ahead 14-0 late in the first quarter, beating Maryland safety Tyrone Stewart in his zone for a 46-yard touchdown catch down the right sideline with 12 seconds left in the first quarter.

Toughness had been a trademark of the Terps this season, always able to bounce back after bad breaks. They showed this again when quarterback Shaun Hill play-faked to fullback James Lynch out of an option formation, then found Jafar Williams streaking free after Florida cornerback Lito Sheppard bit on the fake.

The result was a 64-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the first quarter. It was Maryland's longest pass play of the season. More importantly, it put the Terps back into the game.

Okanlawon followed that up by deflecting a Berlin pass intended for Jacobs. The deflection fell into the hands of Dennard Wilson, who returned the interception 36 yards to the Florida 3. Instead of tying the game, however, the Terps had two unsuccessful running plays and an errant pass before settling for a 20-yard field goal by Nick Novak to make it 14-10 with 12:20 left in the first half.

Maryland had other opportunities, following an earlier Berlin interception with Hill's interception to Florida linebacker Andra Davis in the first quarter. And after Berlin's second interception, Terps linebacker E.J. Henderson forced a Graham fumble that was recovered by nose tackle Charles Hill.

That led only to a missed 46-yard field goal attempt by Novak, and then to Grossman's insertion into the game, at which point Maryland found out how much of the full Florida treatment they'd been missing.

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