JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Ohio State football team committed two special teams errors against the Florida Gators in the 2012 Gator Bowl. The miscues cost the team 14 points and, perhaps, a great deal more.
Florida redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose scored on a 99-yard kickoff return to break a 7-7 tie in the second quarter. Later, a blocked punt was recovered by freshman Graham Stewart and returned 14 yards for a touchdown to give the Gators a 21-10 lead in the third quarter.
The two mistakes resulted in 14 points for Florida, which won the game, 24-17.
Gators redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley connected on a 16-yard pass with fellow redshirt senior Deonte Thompson to open the scoring late in the first quarter. OSU was quick to respond, and freshman quarterback Braxton Miller connected with senior wide receiver DeVier Posey on a 5-yard touchdown pass at the 11:25 mark of the second quarter to tie the game.
Debose was the next Florida player to touch the ball, and he made the touch count.
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 speed factor wasn’t a thing — nobody touched (Debose) on the kickoff return,” OSU coach Luke Fickell said after the game. “I don’t think it was just straight speed. It comes down to one-on-one battles, and we didn’t do a good enough job of winning the one-on-one battles.”
OSU sophomore kicker Drew Basil booted a 47-yard field goal to cut Florida’s lead to 14-10 heading into halftime. That was as close as OSU came to canceling its deficit as the second costly Buckeyes’ error came on their first possession after the break.
Junior punter Ben Buchanan’s third punt of the game was blocked by Florida redshirt senior halfback Chris Rainey and returned 14 yards for a score by freshman Graham Stewart. The score put the Gators ahead, 21-10.
“You’ve got to give (Florida) credit for, obviously, bringing great pressure and for winning some one-on-one battles,” Fickell said. “That (the play) was huge.”
After the game, redshirt senior linebacker Tyler Moeller took partial responsibility for the blocked punt, saying he could have blocked out Florida players better on the play.
“We beat ourselves today,” Moeller said. “The punt wasn’t entirely my fault, but I was there. The special teams didn’t do our job, and that really hurt us today.”
Sophomore right tackle Jonathan Hankins said the kickoff return and the blocked punt threw OSU off.
“(The plays) hurt us because for a while, we weren’t on the field as much,” Hankins said. “When we did get on the field, we were kind of rusty. We weren’t as loose.”
Miller completed a touchdown pass to junior running back Jordan Hall with less than a minute to play in regulation, cutting OSU’s deficit to 24-16, but the comeback attempt fell short.
Fickell said the loss, caused at least in part by the special teams errors, hurt his players and him.
“It’s not something that ever goes away,” he said. “That’s what I told the players after the game — it should hurt. When you remember that feeling, that’s what makes you better.”
OSU concludes its season with a 6-7 record, the Buckeyes’ first losing record since 1988.
New head coach Urban Meyer, along with the members of his newly hired coaching staff, are in control of the team. OSU players have a 7 a.m. Tuesday meeting with Meyer, according to multiple players.