As the Florida Gators continue preparations to face the Louisville Cardinals in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans January 2, 2013, HailFloridaHail continues the series looking back at past Sugar Bowl games involving the Gators. Today we take a look back at every Gator fans favorite Sugar Bowl game, the 1997 rematch with Florida State in which the Gators were able to clinch the first national championship in school history.
Billed as the Sunshine State rematch, the Gators came into that game on January 2, 1997 facing a tough rematch against bitter rival Florida State after the Gators were beaten up in a loss to them a month and a half earlier in Tallahassee.
In that game, the Seminoles made a point to hit Gator quarterback Danny Wuerffel to the last “echo” of the whistle. Afterward, Spurrier would complain that the Seminoles were hitting Wuerffel late and they weren’t getting called for it.
The Gators featured the top offense in the nation. With Danny Wuerffel, the Heisman winner and most efficient quarterback in Division I history at the time, receivers Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, and Jacquez Green, and running backs Fred Taylor, Terry Jackson, and Eli Williams, the Gators and Spurrier’s Fun N Gun were operating at max efficiency.
The Seminoles came in with the third ranked defense in the country. Their defense featured defensive end Peter Boulware and Andre Wadsworth, linebacker Sam Cowart, and defensive backs Samari Rolle and Mario Edwards.
The Seminoles pounded Wuerffel in the first game and came into the rematch with the same gameplan, to hit Wuerffel early and often. The genius of Spurrier was evident in the rematch, however, with plenty of time to game-plan against the tough FSU defensive line and secondary.
Spurrier went to the shotgun, something he had been averse to previously as a head coach, which gave Danny an extra second of vision to find receivers quickly and get the ball off ahead of the fierce Seminole pass rush. Using a lot of quick slants, short posts, and double moves, Wuerffel was able to deliver quickly and allow the Gator’s athletic and speedy receivers to make plays.
The Gators operating in rhythm opened quickly jumping out to a 17-3 lead. The Seminoles behind quarterback Thad Busby’s big night came roaring back. The two teams traded scores and went into halftime with the Gators up 24-17. The second half, however, was a different story entirely.
After the Seminoles opened the third quarter with a field goal getting within four at 24-20, the Gators took control scoring touchdown after touchdown to run away with a huge 52-20 victory, the most points scored in Sugar Bowl history at the time. As a result, the Gators won the first national championship in their history.
Danny Wuerffel, the Sugar Bowl MVP, passed for 306 yards and 3 touchdowns repeatedly making big throws a half-step before being pounded by the FSU defensive line. Ike Hilliard caught all three touchdowns and had 7 receptions for 150 yards as the Noles plan to shut down Reidel Anthony blew up in their face as they couldn’t cover Ike nor Jacquez Green who had 75 yards receiving himself.
Terry Jackson had a monster game with 118 yards rushing on 12 carries and two td’s while Fred Taylor finished with 60 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown. The Gators rolled up 474 yards of total offense including 168 rushing the most rushing yards by far the Noles gave up all season.