Alligators leave Las Vegas in an unforgettable way

LAS VEGAS — They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

The Gators can live with that. They won’t mind if what happened at Allegiant Stadium on Saturday at the Las Vegas Bowl is knocked over the head with a shovel, shot in the heart and buried somewhere outside the city limits in a remote part of the desert.

Yes, it was so forgettable. And no, it’s not that easy.

Not when the highlight of Florida’s 30-3 loss to Oregon State was a 40-yard field goal by Adam Mihalek with 37 seconds left that kept the Gators’ 34-year streak alive without being erased on the scoreboard.

“I mean, what are the hit percentages in fourth and that?” Alligator Coach Billy Napier said afterward of the last-minute basket on fourth base from the Oregon State 23-yard line. “So take the points. Give Adam a chance to gain experience.”

The Gators finished Napier’s first season in charge with a 6-7 record, the same record as last season when a loss to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl dropped the Gators below the .500 mark.

Adam Mihalek prepares for his 40-yard field goal in the final seconds of Saturday’s loss to Oregon State at the Las Vegas Bowl. (Photo: Hannah White/UAA Communication)

The game was close at halftime despite the Gators passing just 2 yards on offense in the second quarter after 91 in the first quarter in the transfer quarterback Jack Miller III first career start. Miller led the Gators to 31 at Oregon State in the second set of the Florida game, but a third-and-6 turned into third-and-16 after back-to-back false starts by offensive linemen. Kamryn Waites (making his first career start) and Kingsley Eguakun. Mihalek missed a 52-yard left field goal on fourth down, and the Beavers went for 65 yards on eight plays on ensuing possession. Oregon State took a 7-0 lead on an 8-yard touchdown by Tyjon Lindsey.

Mistakes and missed opportunities proved a recurring theme for the Gators in their lowest-scoring bowl game since being shut out by Maryland in the 1975 Gator Bowl.

The Gators committed 11 penalties for 82 yards. The Beavers have fired Miller four times. Bettor Jeremy Crawshaw had a blocked punt in the third quarter when the ball deflected off a teammate and the attack rushed to two headers from Montrell Johnson Jr. (14 meters) and Trevor Etienne (14 yards) combined for 28 yards on 19 carries. Oregon State also converted a false critical punt that led to a score. In Florida’s lone goalscoring campaign, the Gators scored a first and 6 at Oregon State after Miller connected with Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman for 38 yards. They backed off from there.

It was that kind of day in front of an announced crowd of 29,750 people.

The Gators have been saying all week how much they enjoyed their trip to the bowl in Vegas, but Saturday wasn’t the final scene they envisioned. As the Beavers and their fans celebrated their first win over a non-two-two Southeastern Conference opponent against Missouri when the Tigers were in the Big 12, the Gators fell in the locker room with a third straight bowl loss. .

“It’s my job to have the team ready to play, and we weren’t as ready to play as we should have been,” Napier said. “What disappoints me are the penalties, some situational errors in the game, certainly a lot of things we can do from a manager’s point of view. I think we hung on in defence. We didn’t didn’t produce much on offense, but I thought our defensive players had been hanging on to it for a while.”

The Gators were still in the game at halftime, trailing 10-0 after Jordan Young blocked a 33-yard field goal attempt by Everett Hayes on the final play of the first half. But instead of reloading in the third quarter, the Gators stayed stuck at neutral, gaining 5 yards on nine plays.

Meanwhile, the Beavers increased their lead to 23-0 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ben Gulbranson to Silas Bolden and a 7-yard run from Gulbranson. Oregon State (10-3) halted play early in the fourth quarter when a 2-yard touchdown by Jam Griffin capped a 13-play, 98-yard drive.

Heading into Saturday’s game, most of the headlines centered on Florida arriving in Las Vegas without a starting quarterback. Anthony Richardson (declared for the NFL Draft) and 21 total players who have appeared in a game this season due to suspensions, transfers or layoffs.

In the end, none of it seemed to matter. Miller, the sophomore who transferred from Ohio State after last season, settled in after a three-and-out to open the game and go 13 of 22 for 180 yards.

“I think Jack showed courage,” Napier said. “You think about what he was asked to do, he obviously hurt his thumb at the end of training camp to come back four or five weeks ago, really the first time to start and just rehearsals to prepare for this game.

“What I’m thinking are maybe things we can do as a team to maybe help him, that the players around him play better, that he can play better, but more importantly still, we can coach better. It’s a tough dynamic and a dynamic he’s taken.”

Miller was under constant pressure, and with stoppage time in progress (39 yards on 33 attempts), the Beavers limited the Gators to a minimum of 219 total rushing yards. The Beavers reached 10 wins for only the third time in program history and the first time in 16 years.

For the Gators, it’s been a disappointing end to the season after a dominating 38-6 win at home to South Carolina five weeks ago put them up 6-4. Florida ended the regular season with losses to Vanderbilt and Florida State.

Senior defensive tackle Gervon Dexter, who played Saturday after declaring himself for the NFL Draft, is confident the program is headed in the right direction under Napier despite what the scoreboard showed Saturday.

Consecutive losing seasons are Florida’s first since the Carter administration when the Gators went 4-7 in Doug Dickey’s final season (1978) and 0-10-1 in Charley Pell’s first season (1979) ). The Gators are a program in transition now as then.

Gators Quarterback Jack Miller III threw for 180 yards in his first career start on Saturday. (Photo: Hannah White/UAA Communication)

“It was a lot of emotions,” Dexter said of the post-game locker room where Napier recognized the team’s veteran leaders for their contributions in his first season. “But mostly I’m proud to be here. Honestly, just seeing the transition from last year to this year, I’m just proud of it. I feel like we left it better than we did. we got it.”

Fourth-year junior receiver Ricky Persall led the Gators with four catches for 65 yards, the same totals he had last season at the Las Vegas Bowl as a member of the Arizona State team that lost to Wisconsin. Pearsall said he hasn’t decided if he will return, but he enjoyed his first season at UF and sees better days ahead.

“I think we can look back and see what we’ve done all year. Fighting all the way is something this team has done,” Pearsall said. “You can’t really teach effort, and I think that’s something really important that we can build on next year. We’ve got a lot of young guys who are hungry and looking forward to playing, so I think Gator Nation should be excited about the future here.”

Napier will turn its full attention to National Signing Day on Wednesday. The Gators have a recruiting class currently ranked in the top 10 nationally.

His freshman season crashed at the finish line, but if the Gators can keep recruiting well, the highlight of their next bowling game might not be a last-second basket to extend their NCAA-record streak. not to be ruled out at 436 games. .

But first, Napier paid tribute one last time to their inaugural Florida team.

“Sometimes I think the result doesn’t necessarily show the growth that we’ve seen,” Napier said. “I think our issues on the pitch have been specific to the execution. I think we’re still working on the culture part, but we’ve made a ton of progress in that area. What I’ve observed in that locker room by compared to some of the things that we may have observed when we got here, it’s a completely different ball club.”

The next step is to field a ball club that finishes with a winning record.

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