Year One of the Will Muschamp Era has concluded in Gainesville, and the final game—Monday afternoon's 24-17 victory against Ohio State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl—had to have Florida fans hopeful heading into 2012.
Sure, questions remain on offense (Who will be the quarterback? Will a big-play receiver emerge? How will Mike Gillislee do as the starting tailback?), but it does appear to be a certain that the Gators will open next season's campaign against Bowling Green owning one of the nation's best defenses.
Defensive tackle Jaye Howard is talented and highly underrated, but he is the only senior starter on the defense, UF is deep up front.
But before we get going and look ahead too far, let's look back one last time by grading Florida (7-6) against the Buckeyes (6-7).
There was nothing really under—or overwhelming—about UF's performance on offense against OSU.
Led by senior Chris Rainey (16 carries for 71 yards), the Gators finished with 131 rushing yards on 38 carries (3.4 ypc). The backs lost no fumbles (quarterback John Brantley gave up two).
The passing game was good enough to get by, but it certainly didn't win the contest for Florida.
Who was Florida's MVP in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl victory against Ohio State?
In his final time suiting up as a Gator, Brantley went 12-of-16 for 132 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Rainey was Brantley's favorite target, catching three passes for 31 yards. Omarius Hines and Deonte Thompson caught two passes each with one of Thompson's going for a score.
Give the offensive line credit for a good day for allowing no sacks—despite having to overcome a plethora of injuries that made it so backup center/guard Nick Alajajian had to move outside and play the entire contest at left tackle.
Give the running game a B-, the passing game a B- and the offensive line an A-.
Ohio State had some semi-impressive numbers against the Gators, but they weren't really meaningful.
Sure, quarterback Braxton Miller completed 18-of-23 for 162 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but did he really impress anyone? Likewise with the Buckeyes' rushing game, which finished with 137 yards on 37 carries (3.7 ypc).
What did stand out were the six sacks (by five different players) UF recorded, all of which seemed to come at a big moment.
Linebacker Jon Bostic played perhaps his best game in a Florida uniform, recording eight tackles, four of which went for a loss of 15 yards.
If you were grading UF against Ohio State, the order best to worst of these units would be:
Safety Matt Elam also had a big game (six tackles, two of which were for loss and one of which was a sack).
So did defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy (five tackles, forced fumble), safety Josh Evans (five tackles, fumble recovery, sack), defensive tackle Omar Hunter (five tackles, forced fumble), Howard (five tackles, one-and-a-half sacks) and nickelback Pop Saunders (four tackles, fumble recovery). Purifoy and Saunders are true freshmen.
Florida scored two touchdowns on special teams against OSU, meaning the Gators will get high marks here.
Andre Debose returned a kickoff 99 yards untouched for a second-quarter touchdown—one that deflated Ohio State immediately after its first scoring drive.
And Graham Stewart recovered a punt Rainey blocked and returned it 14 yards for a score just a few minutes into the third quarter.
Both plays were huge for UF.
Punter Kyle Christy averaged 37.3 yards on three punts, with two being downed inside the 20 and one going for 50 yards.
Placekicker Caleb Sturgis finished the afternoon one for one on field goals after making a 17-yarder less than a minute into the fourth quarter and three for three on extra point attempts.
The Buckeyes had no punt return yards and had a long kickoff return of 20, meaning the Gator coverage teams and their specialists did their jobs.
It's tough to find a mistake.