JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For Ohio State football, Monday’s appearance in the Gator Bowl was the final game for Luke Fickell as head coach and the last bowl game for the program until at least 2013.
The Florida Gators ended any chance of OSU entering its transitionary period on a high note.
Florida dashed OSU’s attempt at a bowl victory Monday as it claimed a 24-17 win. Gators redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose scored on a 99-yard kickoff return in the second quarter to break a 7-7 tie and give Florida a lead it would not relinquish. The Gators defense forced two turnovers and scored on a blocked punt to protect its win.
OSU and Florida remained scoreless for nearly the entire first quarter until Gators redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley connected on a 16-yard pass with fellow redshirt senior Deonte Thompson to open the scoring.
Brantley finished the game 12-of-16 passing for 129 yards and an interception.
OSU responded at the 11:25 mark in the second quarter when freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, named the 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, connected with senior wide receiver DeVier Posey on a 5-yard pass to draw OSU even with Florida at seven.
Posey totaled five catches and 40 yards.
The tie was short-lived, as Debose was the next player to touch the ball.
Debose went untouched by the Buckeyes on his 99-yard return, which restored Florida’s lead at 14-7. The kick return, which was the third of Debose’s career, broke a 29-year old Gator Bowl record for the longest kick return.
The Buckeyes amassed 140 yards of offense in the first half and managed one final score before the intermission when sophomore kicker Drew Basil booted a 47-yard field goal to make the score 14-10. That score held until halftime.
The field goal was the 16th on 19 attempts for Basil on the season and also matched his longest kick of the year.
When play resumed after the intermission, Miller was sacked on 3rd-and-10 during OSU’s first possession of the second half, setting up redshirt junior punter Ben Buchanan’s third punt of the game.
The punt was blocked by Florida and redshirt senior tailback Chris Rainey and returned 14 yards for a score by freshman Graham Stewart. The score put the Gators ahead, 21-10.
OSU earned a big play of its own on defense to help keep the game within reach, though.
Redshirt senior linebacker Tyler Moeller intercepted a Brantley pass to give OSU possession inside Florida territory with 4:54 to play in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes fumbled its opportunity away — literally.
Posey fumbled after a 10-yard reception inside the Gators’ 40-yard line later in the drive. The fumble, which was the fifth of the day for both teams and the second by OSU, was recovered by Florida junior safety Josh Evans to end the Buckeyes’ potential scoring threat.
Florida then added to its lead with an 18-yard field goal by redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis. That eight-play, 53-yard Gators drive that lasted 4:01 made the score 24-10 and took the game into the fourth quarter.
The Buckeyes struggled to mount a comeback. Senior running back Daniel “Boom” Herron was limited to 69 yards on 11 carries with less than 10 minutes to play in regulation. To that point, Miller was 11-of-15 passing for a touchdown and 85 yard, but was also limited to just 14 yards rushing on 14 attempts.
The Buckeyes made things interesting, but only momentarily.
OSU junior running back Jordan Hall scored on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Miller to cut the deficit to 24-17 with 57 seconds to play.
The Buckeyes then lined up for an onside kick attempt which Florida recovered to clinch the win.
The loss gave OSU its first losing season since 1988 and marks the first time since 1897 that the Buckeyes finished the year with seven or more losses.
Urban Meyer, who was introduced as OSU new head coach on Nov. 28, will now take control of the team, along with other newly hired coaches.
Fickell’s final game as OSU head coach
Monday marked Fickell’s final game as head coach of the Buckeyes. Fickell led OSU to a 6-7 overall record and a 3-5 mark in Big Ten play. He is the first one-season coach in the modern era of Buckeyes football. Paul Bixler, the most recent OSU coach to serve for a period of one season, led the Buckeyes to a 4-3-2 record during the 1946 season.
Other one-year head coaches in OSU football history include Charles Hickey (1896), David Edwards (1897), Howard Jones (1910), Harry Vaughn (1911) and John Richards (1912). Fickell’s six wins tie him with Jones and Richards for the most wins among one-season head coaches.
Gator Bowl Attendance
Attendance at Everbank Field for 2012 Gator Bowl peaked at 61,312. The 2011 Gator Bowl, played between Michigan and Mississippi State, attracted a sellout crowd 77,497.