- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

MIAMI There would be no Miami miracle.
Maryland's best season in a quarter-century came to disappointing finish as Florida exploited the Terrapins' greatest weakness in a 56-23 rout last night in the Orange Bowl. The fifth-ranked Gators used their speedy receivers to burn the Terps secondary, as quarterback Rex Grossman entered the game in the second quarter and picked Maryland apart before a crowd 73,640 at Pro Player Stadium.
"I'm not proud of today," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen of Maryland's first bowl appearance since 1990. "We were embarrassing. I apologize to the fans. We were represented by a lot of the state [in the crowd]. They supported us and we didn't do a good job. That's my fault. And we'll get this thing right in the future."
The No. 6 Terps were defenseless after Grossman came in late in the second quarter, and quickly showed why he is an All-American who was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Grossman, who did not start as punishment for missing curfew earlier in the week, relieved Brock Berlin and promptly led Florida on two touchdown drives that put the Gators up 28-10 at halftime, and effectively put the game away.
Maryland had rallied back and cut the lead to 14-7, and had a golden opportunity to tie, but had to settle for a field goal after a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line. The Terps (10-2) had caused three turnovers at that point, but couldn't fully take advantage.
Grossman completed 20-of-28 passes for 248 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Wide receiver Taylor Jacobs set an Orange Bowl record with 170 receiving yard by tying a bowl record with 10 receptions. Jacobs also had two touchdowns as he was named Orange Bowl MVP. The Gators set an Orange Bowl record by gaining 659 yards of total offense.
"They were fast," said Terps cornerback Dennard Wilson of one of the nation's top receiving corps. "I don't think it was more their speed than their specific routes. They used their speed to make precise cuts. After a while we did get a little tired."
Grossman's most important damage to Maryland came in the second quarter. It started when he came in with 6:03 left in the half and led the 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, concluded by 15-yard crossing pass to Jacobs. Grossman completed six of eight passes on the series, largely throwing underneath to running backs and short routes to receivers in front of the coverage. The Jacobs' score came after he got ahead of cornerback Tony Okanlawon down the center of the end zone.
But the backbreaker came on the next drive. The Terps got the ball back with 2:18 left, and tried to mount one of their famous two-minute scoring drives. The strategy backfired and a Maryland timeout with 1:41 left actually aided the Gators. After Shaun Hill was sacked for an eight-yard loss, Florida (10-2) called a timeout and got the ball back at its own 36 with 1:24 remaining.
Grossman continued his surgery with a six-play, touchdown drive that ended with a four-yard scoring pass to Jabar Gaffney with no time remaining. A 14-yard pass from Grossman to Brian Haugabrook got the Gators to the 4-yard line. After a Florida timeout, Gaffney beat defender Curome Cox on a jump ball in the back of the end zone.
Florida led 28-10 at half. It was the most points Maryland has allowed in a first half this season, and biggest deficit it has had at the break. The Gators ensured there would be no second half comeback by taking the opening kickoff and going 65 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown. Grossman continued to take advantage of the deep coverage with completions underneath the defense. Tailback Earnest Graham (149 yards) completed the drive with a six-yard touchdown run.
"It burned the whole second half," Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "Just all the time we put in. We let ourselves down. We let our fans down. It was a horrible feeling."
Maryland completed its first 10-win season since 1976 by playing in its first New Year's bowl in 25 years. The Terps, who won their first ACC title in 16 seasons, never established a running game. Tailback Bruce Perry had just 23 yards on 11 carries before leaving when he re-aggravated a pulled abdominal muscle in the third quarter. Quarterback Shaun Hill struggled all night under constant pressure.
"We had a great season a great one," said Jafar Williams, who had a 65-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter as part of an ill-fated comeback. "It's just too bad it had to end like this."
The Terps made it interesting by scoring 10 straight points in the second quarter and had a chance to cut further into the lead after E.J. Henderson forced an fumble from Graham and noseguard Charles Hill recovered it at the Gators' 24. Maryland used 10 plays to get to the Gators' 31 to attempt a 46-yard field goal. Nick Novak missed wide left. The freshman had made 13 of his last 15 field goal tries, including all 13 attempts within 15 yards.
Grossman came in after the miss, and the Gators dominated from that point. Previously, Maryland had cut into the lead on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Williams and a 20-yard field goal by Novak. The pass to Williams was Maryland's longest of the season and came on the final play of the first quarter. It came on the Terps' first play after Florida took a 14-0 lead. Williams was wide open at the 30 and cruised into the end zone from there.
Maryland kept up the momentum as cornerback Tony Okanlawon batted away a Berlin pass, and Dennard Wilson picked it off and ran 36 yards down the left sideline to Florida's 3. But the Terps couldn't punch it in on two rushes by Marc Riley and Hill intentionally threw it away under pressure on the third down. Maryland had to settle for a short field goal.
The Gators had scored on their first possession before jumping out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead. After Maryland's started the game with a three-and-out possession, Florida marched 83 yards on 10 plays to take the lead for good. The key play came after a sack by Henderson forced a 16-yard loss and Florida had a third-and-23 at Maryland's 37. The Terps rushed just three men and Berlin had plenty time to find Jacobs down the right sideline for a 34-yard gain. Two plays later, Graham slammed it into the end zone on a 1-yard run.
Maryland had a chance to tie after a Randall Jones intercepted an underthrown pass by Berlin and returned it 30 yards to Florida's 37. But on the next play, Hill's pass was tipped by receiver Williams and intercepted by Andra Davis.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Gators took a two-touchdown advantage on a 46-yard pass from Berlin to Jacobs, who caught the ball down the right sideline and easily scored. The Florida receiver had broken containment and safety Tyrone Stewart had no chance on the play. Jacobs had eight catches for 115 yards in the first quarter.


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