GatorZone.com Senior Writer
TAMPA, Fla. – Urban Meyer left Florida a winner. In his final game as the Gators’ head coach on Saturday, Florida defeated Penn State 37-24 in the Outback Bowl.
The win was Meyer’s fifth bowl victory in six tries at Florida. It improved his career record at the school to 65-15. But Meyer said Saturday’s victory was more important than that.
It set the stage for a positive offseason with new coach Will Muschamp set to take over the program today.
“[The win] feels great because Will Muschamp is getting a good group of young men and on a positive note,’’ Meyer said. “It’s awful in the offseason [to end with a loss].
“Will Muschamp is getting a football team that is going to have some bright eyes and ready to get to work and get back to where we need to be.’’
After back-to-back 13-win seasons and three in four years, the Gators finished 8-5 in Meyer’s final season, the worst record of his 10-year stint as head coach at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.
The team faces several questions entering the offseason, most notably at quarterback. Those are questions that Muschamp and his staff must now find answers to.
Saturday was about Meyer and his Gators. He was pleased at how they went out together with a comeback win over the Nittany Lions.
“I’m a full peace because I saw a bunch of smiles in that locker room,’’ Meyer said. “Locker rooms aren’t very much fun when there’s not smiling and [instead] pain in your stomach and chest and everything else.
“That was a lot of fun in there.’’
FINAL EMBRACE: Meyer’s exit was the big story Saturday, but offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Addazio also coached his final game for the Gators.
Addazio is taking over as head coach at Temple. While Meyer was surrounded by dozens of TV cameras on the field, Addazio had a quiet moment with senior offensive linemen Mike Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, Carl Johnson and Mo Hurt, who did not pay due to an injury but attended the game.
“We told each other we would be friends for life,’’ Pouncey said. “That guy had my back for four years. I love him to death. I wish him the best of luck at Temple.’’
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Freshman Solomon Patton blocked a punt in the second quarter that was scooped up by Lerentee McCray and returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
The blocked punt was UF’s 21st during Meyer’s tenure and 32nd blocked kick. When the Gators blocked a punt under Meyer, they went 16-0.
Patton’s blocked punt was the first returned for a touchdown in a bowl game by the Gators since their Tremaine McCollum’s 6-yard return in a win over Iowa in the 2006 Outback Bowl, Meyer’s first bowl game at UF.
HENRY’S FAREWELL: Gators senior P Chas Henry, the 2010 Ray Guy Award winner as the nation’s top punter, kicked a career-long 47-yard field Saturday.
He also kicked field goals of 30 and 20 yards in perhaps his best kicking performance of the season since replacing injured starter Caleb Sturgis.
Oddly, it was Henry’s punting that gave him fits.
Henry punted six times for a 35.2-yard average, his longest a 58-yarder. He also shanked a punt for 14 yards. And on a fake punt attempt in the third quarter, he took off running short of the first down after missing an open receiver.
“I saw they were rushing three before the snap and thought we should have a good chance,’’ Henry said. “It was a crazy day out there. Going out with a win made it special.’
EXTRA POINTS: Gators freshman CB Cody Riggs and redshirt junior Moses Jenkins recorded the first interceptions of their careers, as did senior LB Brandon Hicks in his final game … Florida improved to 3-0 all-time against Penn State, all three wins coming in bowl games (1962 Gator, 1998 Citrus, 2011 Outback) … The Nittany Lions lost their first Outback Bowl following wins over Auburn (1996), Kentucky (1999) and Tennessee (2007) … Penn State has had some great running backs in its long and storied history: John Cappelletti, Curt Warner, Curtis Enis, Ki-Jana Carter and D.J. Dozier come to mind. But none finished their careers with as many yards at Evan Royster, who had 20 carries for 98 yards on Saturday to break the school’s all-time career record for rushing yards (3,932) … Patton set an Outback Bowl record with 82 yards on three kickoff returns; the previous bowl record for most kickoff-return yardage was 79 yards by Michigan’s Derrick Alexander in 1994 … Official attendance at Saturday’s game was 60,574, the highest since 65,601 saw Penn State beat Tennessee 20-10 in the 2007 game … The SEC leads the Outback Bowl 10-6 since the game locked into an annual SEC-Big Ten matchup in 1996.