- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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Turning point: Florida's Andre Debose returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to break a 7-7 tie. It was the longest play in Gator Bowl history, eclipsing a 96-yard touchdown run by Texas Tech's Mikell Simpson in 2008. Debose now has three kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career, the most in school history. He had been tied with Bo Carroll and Stacey Simmons. Debose also had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against South Carolina last season.
Stat of the game: Florida had a season-high six sacks against Ohio State, which is notable since it came against a mobile quarterback, and the Gators have had trouble with mobile quarterbacks all season. Sophomore defensive tackle Shariff Floyd, who had moved inside from end because of the injury to Dominique Easley (torn ACL), had the first 1½ sacks of his career. Braxton Miller was Ohio State's leading rusher entering the game with 695 yards, but he had just 11 yards on 13 carries through three quarters.
Player of the game: Florida running back Chris Rainey did not find the end zone, but he had more than 100 all-purpose yards, and he had a hand in the game's biggest play in the third quarter. Rainey came free and blocked Ben Buchanan's punt, which Florida freshman Graham Stewart recovered and returned 14 yards for a touchdown. Rainey finished with 71 yards rushing and three catches for 31 yards.
Second guessing: Florida passed up the opportunity to go up by three scores early in the fourth quarter when UF coach Will Muschamp elected to kick a 17-yard field goal instead of going for the touchdown on fourth down from the half-yard line. Caleb Sturgis' field goal put the Gators up 24-14, which made it a two-touchdown lead. But had the Gators gotten in from inside the 1-yard line, it could have been a three-score deficit for the Buckeyes, who had 207 yards of offense through the first three quarters. Would have essentially put the game out of reach.
What it means: Florida's victory means the Gators avoided their first losing season since 1979, when UF went 0-10-1 in Charley Pell's first season. UF's players talked about being motivated by not being the team that ended the school's streak of 32 consecutive non-losing seasons. Ohio State finished 6-7, which is the program's first seven-loss season since 1897 and its first losing season since 1988.
1dSam Khan Jr.