No. 5 Florida 56, No. 6 Maryland 23

Thursday, January 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Brock Berlin was decent, Rex Grossman was much better and speedy receiver Taylor Jacobs led a long list of talented players who could make any Florida quarterback look great.

Forced to watch from the sideline for the first 24 minutes of the Orange Bowl, Grossman again showed he belongs on the field Wednesday night. He led Florida to touchdowns on his first six drives, and the No. 5 Gators smashed No. 6 Maryland 56-23 on a record-setting night.

Grossman threw for 248 yards and four touchdowns. Jacobs caught 10 passes for 170 yards, both Orange Bowl records, and Steve Spurrier's quarterback shuffle turned into a stunning offensive highlight show.

``It looked like our wideouts were running past them pretty good,'' Spurrier said. ``Defensively, we were the faster team.''


Overall, the Gators unanimously agreed, Maryland (10-2) just didn't match up too well in its first bowl game in 11 years.

``I'm not proud of the way we played,'' said first-year Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, who led the surprising Terps to the Atlantic Coast Conference title. ``I'm embarrassed. It's my fault. I'm embarrassed for the state of Maryland.''

Jabar Gaffney caught two touchdowns passes for Florida (10-2), 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.

But they won't be playing for the national title in the Rose Bowl due to a 34-32 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 1.

``I'll watch it with interest,'' Spurrier said. ``But you can't look back. You never get them back. You just try to move on.''

Jacobs caught two touchdown passes _ one from Berlin, one from Grossman. Surprisingly, some people thought Spurrier's decision to bench Grossman for missing curfew would be a distraction.

``It didn't feel any different,'' Grossman said of coming off the bench. ``I tried to get in there, score as many points as possible and give the team some momentum for the second half. We got on a roll. The defense got the ball back to us quickly and we made some plays.''

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,'' Spurrier said. ``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.''

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, and a slim 14-10 lead despite a prolific 224 yards in total offense.

He was noncommittal about returning to Florida next season. He'll probably redshirt if he does _ Grossman finished the season so well, it's hard to imagine he'd have to fight for the job.

``Joe Montana would have backed up Rex this year,'' Berlin said. ``He had a great year, and I just want to get into a situation where I have two good years. If I stay here, I'll take a redshirt. But I want to play like he has.''

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.

``If somebody had told me I'd do this, I would have said there was no way in the world,'' he said. ``But I woke up this morning, and I felt ready to play. I did stay in the bathroom to pray a little longer this morning. I'm sure that helped, but I never thought I'd do this.''

His 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).

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.

``We didn't play our best, but I'm not going to let this put a damper on our season,'' Terps quarterback Shaun Hill said. ``We accomplished a lot this year, and I'll remember this for the rest of my life.''