Jan 3, 2002
By EDDIE PELLS
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI - Brock Berlin. Rex Grossman. Heck, Steve Spurrier probably could have suited up and thrown for a touchdown or two Wednesday night.
Banished to the bench for the first 24 minutes of the Orange Bowl, Grossman led Florida to touchdowns on his first six drives and the No. 5 Gators set record after record in a 56-23 crushing of No. 6 Maryland.
Grossman threw for 248 yards and four touchdowns. Another so-called backup, third receiver Taylor Jacobs, caught 10 passes for 170 yards, both Orange Bowl records, to help turn Spurrier's quarterback shuffle into a stunning offensive highlight show.
"It looks pretty easy when everyone is playing well," said quarterback Brock Berlin, who made his first career start. "Maryland is a good team, but they didn't match up well, I guess."
Jabar Gaffney caught two touchdowns passes for Florida and tailback Earnest Graham ran for 149 yards and two scores. Florida gained 659 yards to break a 49-year-old Orange Bowl record and the Gators showed they might, indeed, have the most talent in the nation, even though they're not playing for the national title in the Rose Bowl.
"In a tournament system we'd be probably the No. 2 seed," said Grossman, who was unexpectedly lifted from the starting lineup for missing curfew. "But we lost our game, so we lost our chance, so we're not complaining about anything. We're just glad we won this game and ended on a good note."
Seemingly determined to prove his team's greatness, Spurrier kept Grossman in the game deep into the fourth quarter, and when he threw a long pass incomplete with 4 minutes left, the dwindling Maryland crowd booed.
But that was hardly the worst of it for the Terrapins (10-2), whose magical season - the Atlantic Coast Conference title, first bowl appearance in 11 years, second winning season in a decade - came to a resoundingly disappointing close.
"I'm not proud of the way we played tonight," first-year Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I'm embarrassed. It's my fault. I'm embarrassed for the state of Maryland."
Jacobs also caught two touchdown passes - one from Berlin, one from Grossman - as the Gators (10-2) rolled to a rout, hardly distracted by Spurrier's decision to bench Grossman.
Berlin played about the way an untested sophomore would be expected to.
Berlin, strongly considering transferring to Miami next season, went 11-for-19 for 196 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions, both the result of badly misjudged throws into double coverage.
His six drives to open the game produced two touchdowns and two interceptions, a bunch of nice passes and a handful of dreadful ones, a slim 14-10 lead despite a prolific 224 yards in total offense.
Was the starting assignment enough to sway him to return to Florida?
"Who knows, man? Who knows?" Berlin said. "You never know what could happen. I haven't made up my mind, to tell you the truth."
While Berlin played, Grossman stood on the sideline with his helmet on, ready to go.
"I was pacing up and down the sidelines to tell the truth, and I wanted to make the best of my opportunity when I got in there," he said. He also conceded he wasn't sure he would get a chance.
But indeed, his time came, and his first six drives were much more impressive than Berlin's.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up entered to big cheers with 6:03 left in the second quarter and showed exactly how he earned the starting position and kept it through all 11 regular-season games.
There were too many highlights to count, but the second touchdown - both the drive and the scoring pass - were testament to how he became Florida's No. 1 quarterback.
He directed a six-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that started with 1:25 left in the first half. The scoring play was a perfect lob in coverage to Gaffney, a pass that only a quarterback with perfect knowledge of his receiver's capabilities would dare throw. It gave Florida a 28-10 lead.
"Rex gave us a nice lift," said Spurrier, who won the 1966 Heisman playing quarterback for Florida. "Brock hadn't played much. We wanted to see what he could do. Then, it was time to get Rex in there. Rex was sharp. He may have played his best game of the year."
Gaffney finished with seven catches for 118 yards, but Jacobs was the best receiver on this night, and he was selected the game's Most Valuable Player.
His presence is one of a number of reasons Florida's passing game works so well.
Jacobs is the third-string receiver, but he's the fastest player on the team, and he can catch. Not too many teams in the country have enough good defensive backs to cover them all.
Maryland certainly didn't, and the record book will reflect that.
"They've got some great athletes," Friedgen said. "I was in the NFL for five years and the only team that was better was the Oakland Raiders."
Jacobs' 10 catches equaled the record set by David Terrell of Michigan in the 2000 Orange Bowl. The 170 yards were 11 more than the record held by Alabama's Ray Perkins (1966) and Florida's Travis Taylor (1999). Jacobs also broke Florida's all-time bowl receiving record (166 yards, Cris Collinsworth in the 1980 Tangerine Bowl vs. Maryland).
The teams combined for 79 points, breaking the combined record of 69 set by Texas and Georgia in 1949. Their 1,019 total yards broke the record of 903 set by Florida State and Notre Dame in 1996.
Florida's 659 yards surpassed the 596 gained against Syracuse in the 1953 Orange Bowl by Alabama, a record so old it came before Bear Bryant coached the Crimson Tide. It was the worst in the long list of huge numbers Maryland allowed in this, its first bowl game since the 1990 Independence.
Still, Friedgen's team will get a championship ring this season and the Gators will not.
Florida, the preseason No. 1 team in the country, will settle for its ninth 10-win season in Spurrier's 12 years, its first top-5 ranking since 1998 and one heck of a performance.
On the night before Miami and Nebraska play in the Rose Bowl, the Gators showed they really might have the most talent in the country. But that 34-32 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 1 doomed their chances, and they can only wonder how they might have fared had they made it to Pasadena.
"I'll watch it with interest," Spurrier said of the Rose Bowl. "But you can't look back. You never get them back. You just try to move on."