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No. 17 Florida defense dominates Iowa in Outback Bowl blowout, 30-3

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Austin Appleby may not have been able to beat Iowa (8-5) while he was at Purdue, but he was able to do that on Monday in the Outback Bowl with the No. 17 Florida Gators (9-4). Appleby had early mistakes with a pair of turnovers on the first two drives of the game, but Appleby ended his day with 222 yards and two touchdowns to help the Gators pull away from the Hawkeyes in Tampa in a 30-3 victory.

The story of the game was Florida’s defense, which came up with three interceptions of Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard and held the Iowa offense to just 55 passing yards. Iowa was limited to just 226 yards of offense and went 4-of-16 on third down. Even a 100-yard day from Akrum Wadley (115 yards) was not enough to keep the Hawkeyes within reach once the game snowballed out of control.

Florida scored the first touchdown of the game on an 85-yard pass play to Mark Thompson with multiple missed tackles along the way. Chauncey Gardner padded a comfortable 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter with a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown, and the Gators tacked on two more field goals from there to pile on in the 27-point victory. Considering how Florida was embarrassed last season by a Big Ten team in the bowl season (Michigan), this must have been a little extra sweet to do the same to another Big Ten team.

The loss by the Hawkeyes clinches a losing bowl record this season for the Big Ten. At 3-6 and just one game remaining to play (Penn State in the Rose Bowl), the Big Ten had a rough postseason that included two New Years Six bowl losses by Michigan and Ohio State (in the College Football Playoff). A Penn State win would at least give the Big Ten a split in NY6 bowl games if it can beat USC in the Rose Bowl. The SEC is now 6-5 in the bowl season with two more games to play. Auburn faces Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl later tonight and Alabama will face Clemson in the nationla championship game next week.

Iowa has now been outscored 172-75 in its last five bowl games, which has culminated in a five-game bowl losing streak for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Florida head coach Jim McElwain picked up his first bowl victory of his career.

Iowa’s 2017 season will get underway on September 2 at home against Wyoming from the Mountain West Conference. Iowa will play key division game son the road against Wisconsin and Nebraska next fall, as well as on the road against Big Ten East opponent Michigan State (who can’t possibly be as bad in 2017 as they were in 2016, right). The Hawkeyes also host Ohio State in early November next fall.

Florida’s 2017 season will start in Arlington, Texas against the Michigan Wolverines on September 2 in the Cowboys Kickoff. Other non-conference games will include home games against UAB (the Blazers are back in 2017!) and rival Florida State. In conference play, the Gators host Tennessee as well as LSU and Texas A&M.

As a reminder, the Florida victory means you get a free bloomin’ onion at your local Outback Steakhouse tomorrow, January 3.

Florida leads Iowa, 10-3, in defensive Outback Bowl at halftime

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The Outback Bowl was expected to be a true defensive battle between Iowa and Florida, and through one half of play that has most certainly been the case, although Mark Thompson ripped through for a 85-yard touchdown play late in the first half to give the Gators a 10-3 lead at halftime.

Florida got the ball to start the game, but the drive ended with Austin Appleby being picked off on a tipped and caught by a diving Brandon Snyder. But Florida’s defense responded by forcing Iowa to a three-and-out to force a punt. That would only lead to another interception off a tipped pass from Appleby, this time with Desmond King getting himself in position to have the ball fall in his chest on the ground. It was Florida’s second turnover in the first five minutes of the game.

King’s interception would lead to a field goal by Keith Duncan for a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Florida would answer on the next drive with a 44-yard field goal off the leg of Eddy Pineiro.

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard nearly reached across the goal line for the first touchdown of the game midway through the second quarter, but the ball was placed just outside of the end zone and Iowa opted to go for it on fourth down. It did not go so well, with Florida stuffing the play for a turnover on downs.

USF survives in OT, holds off South Carolina in wild Birmingham Bowl

Associated Press
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South Florida had already set a school record for wins in a season.  Thursday, the Bulls added to it.  Barely.

Trailing 29-14 in the first half of the 11th annual Birmingham Bowl, South Carolina (6-7) roared its way back to tie the game late but its USF that will head back to the Sunshine State with a wild 46-39 win, its fifth in a row to close out the season.  The win was the 11th for the Bulls in 2016, setting a school record.  This year, the 20th anniversary of the first season in the football program’s history, was also the first time they’d reached double-digits in wins, with the previous high being nine wins accomplished on three occasions, the last coming in 2007.

The win was also the Bulls’ first in a bowl game since 2010.  It didn’t come easy, though.  At all.

With the Bulls up 39-21 late in the third, an Elliott Fry field goal cut the Gamecocks’ deficit to 15.  A little over five minutes into the fourth, a Jake Bentley touchdown pass sliced USF’s lead to 39-31.  With an offense that was dominant in the first half suddenly stagnant, the Gamecocks got the ball back again with 6:33 left in the game.  Five plays later they were at the USF 8-yard line; on the sixth play, A.J. Turner appeared headed for what, with a two-point conversion, could’ve been the game-tying touchdown run but fumbled the ball back to the Bulls a yard short of the goal line.

Forcing a Bulls punt from their own end zone after three plays netted next to nothing, Chris Lammons returned a punt that was initially ruled a touchdown but, upon further review, was placed at the two-yard line.  Three plays later, a Turner one-yard run left the ‘Cocks a two-point conversion away from tying the score; a Bentley pass to Hayden Hurst was complete to knot the score at 39-all and send it to overtime.

Quinton Flowers, dominant in the first half but bothered by injury in the second, hit Elkanah Dillon from 25 yards out on the first play of extra time to give the Bulls back the lead.  Facing a fourth down on their first possession of overtime, a strip-sack of Bentley recovered by the Bulls ended the Gamecocks’ comeback hopes.  It was USC’s third red-zone turnover of the game.

Flowers finished the game with five touchdowns — three rushing, two passing — and 366 yards of offense.  He led the team in rushing with 105 yards.

Despite the loss, the future, especially at the quarterback position, certainly looks bright for Will Muschamp & Company.

Bentley finished the game 32-of-43 passing for 390 yards and three touchdowns.  He did, though, throw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.  Sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel was on the receiving end of 14 of those completions and 190 of the yards.

The loss drops the SEC to 1-3 this bowl season, one year after going 9-2.

 

No. 1 Alabama strolls into Playoff with 3rd straight SEC championship

Associated Press
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Though no one will ever come out and say it, Alabama didn’t have to win on Saturday. The Tide clinched their third straight College Football Playoff trip with last week’s 30-12 victory over Auburn, and nothing that happened under the Georgia Dome roof would change that. As far as the next month is considered, the only thing on the line in Atlanta was whether Florida or Auburn would represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.

But, to quote a famous, fictional Alabamian, Alabama did as Alabama does. They won anyway. And they won big.

No. 1 Alabama waltzed to a 54-16 rout over No. 15 Florida, securing the Tide’s third straight SEC championship and its third straight Playoff berth.

Florida opened the game with a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped by a 5-yard strike from Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway, then immediately forced a three-and-out. But the very next play was an Appleby interception, and the boulder started rolling downhill from there.

Alabama got on the board with an Adam Griffith field goal and, on the ensuing possession, Minkah Fitzpatrick snared an errant Appleby pass for a 44-yard pick-six to give the Tide the lead at the 5:06 mark of the first quarter.

Florida’s next possession ended in a punt — that was blocked and returned 27 yards by Joshua Jacobs for a touchdown. (The extra point was itself blocked and returned for two points by Florida.)

By that point, Alabama enjoyed a 16-9 lead without gaining a first down on offense.

Jalen Hurts and company took care of that, though, moving 88 yards in seven plays punctuated by a 6-yard Gehrig Dieter reception.

Florida ended its next possession with yet another disaster, this time a fake punt in their own territory that never had a chance of achieving a first down. Florida was spared when Adam Griffith‘s field goal missed, but Griffith converted a 25-yard field goal on his next try and the Tide’s following possession ended in a 6-yard Jacobs run — giving Alabama a 33-9 lead and the SEC Championship record for most points in a half.

Florida closed the half with a 92-yard touchdown drive capped by a 25-yard strike from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby to pull within 33-16 at the break. Any shot at a Florida second-half comeback ended in the middle of the third quarter when, staked to a 1st-and-goal at the Alabama 2-yard line, three consecutive runs netted zero yards and Appleby’s fourth down connection to Goolsby sailed out of bounds. Alabama immediately answered by moving 98 yards in eight snaps, most of which came on the legs of Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough.

Scarborough capped Alabama’s next drive — this a 14-play, 13-run, 7-minute, 34-second, 91-yard migration — with his second rushing touchdown of the day, opening the gap to 47-16 with 9:15 remaining. Derrick Gore closed the scoring with a 10-yard burst up the middle with 3:48 to play.

For the game, Alabama rushed 38 times for 234 yards and four touchdowns; Scarborough carried 11 times for 91 yards and two scores, and Harris added eight rushes for 86 yards. Hurts booked a modest day of 11-of-20 passing for 138 yards and a touchdown. Appleby completed his day with 26 completions on 39 attempts for 261 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Florida totaled precisely zero rushing yards on 30 credited rushes.

Alabama became the second team in the league’s championship game era to win three straight SEC titles; next season they’ll attempt to tie Florida’s record of four straight SEC Championship victories from 1993-96. The win secured Nick Saban‘s fifth SEC championship at Alabama (and his seventh overall) . It also pushed Alabama past Florida for the most SEC Championship victories at eight in 12 total appearances and edged the Tide to a 5-4 lead in head-to-head SEC title games. The victory extended the Tide’s overall SEC championship lead to 26 total crowns.

The Tide’s 54 points were five off the SEC Championship record (Auburn, 2013) and the most by a Florida opponent since Nebraska steamrolled the Gators 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

Saturday’s game was notable for a number of reasons. It was the 25th SEC Championship. It was the final SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome. It was the final SEC game legendary broadcaster Verne Lundquist will ever call. And it was the first SEC title game since, oh, about 2005 with absolutely zero national championship stakes on the line.

And as long as the Tide stays this far ahead of the rest of the SEC, it won’t be the last.

Alabama having its way with hapless Florida

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The SEC Championship was competitive… for about a drive.

Florida opened the game with a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped by a 5-yard strike from Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway. Florida then forced 3-and-out. But the very next play was an Appleby interception, and the boulder started rolling downhill from there.

Alabama got on the board with an Adam Griffith field goal and, on the ensuing possession, Minkah Fitzpatrick snared an errant Appleby pass for a 44-yard pick-six to give the Tide the lead at the 5:06 mark of the first quarter.

Florida’s next possession ended in a punt — that was blocked and returned 27 yards by Joshua Jacobs for a touchdown. (The extra point was itself blocked and returned for two points by Florida.)

By that point, Alabama enjoyed a 16-9 lead without gaining a first down on offense.

Jalen Hurts and company took care of that, though, moving 88 yards in seven plays punctuated by a 6-yard Gehrig Dieter reception.

Florida ended its next possession with yet another disaster, this time a fake punt in their own territory that never had a chance of achieving a first down. Florida was spared when Adam Griffith‘s field goal missed, but Griffith converted a 25-yard field goal on his next try and the Tide’s following possession ended in a 6-yard Jacobs run — giving Alabama a 33-9 lead and the SEC Championship record for most points in a half.

Florida closed the half with a 92-yard touchdown drive capped by a 25-yard strike from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby to pull within 33-16 at the break. Appleby closed the half completing 17-of-26 passes for 184 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, while Hurts hit 8-of-16 passes for 112 yards and a score. Alabama has out-rushed Florida 52-7.

Alabama will receive to open the second half.