Florida interim coach Charlie Strong said if his defense played well, the Gators would be able to compete with Miami in the Peach Bowl and his coaching credentials would not suffer.
It's a good thing the Gators defensive coordinator _ and former coach Ron Zook's temporary replacement _ isn't auditioning for a special-teams coaching position because while the Florida defense contained the Hurricanes offense, special-teams miscues proved costly in the 27-10 loss Friday night.
Miami quarterback Brock Berlin completed only five passes in the first half for 24 yards, and Florida held running back Frank Gore to 30 yards before halftime. But the Gators still trailed 17-3 at the end of the second quarter.
The Hurricanes who proved most troublesome were not Berlin and Gore, but sophomore cornerback Devin Hester and junior receiver Roscoe Parrish.
After allowing only one special teams touchdown (a punt return against Mississippi State) and one defensive touchdown (a fumble recovery in the end zone against Vanderbilt) during the regular season, Florida watched Miami score twice with its offense on the sideline.
Hester provided the game's first touchdown after he scooped up a blocked Matt Leach field goal and scampered 78 yards for the score. Parrish fielded a second-quarter punt at his 28 and went untouched into the end zone to put Miami up 17-3.
"I don't think that a lack of focus or a lack of concentration was there," Strong said. "It was just that Miami blocked a field goal and blocked a punt. They made big plays."
While the Gators were unaccustomed to allowing special-teams touchdowns before the Peach Bowl, Miami counts on them as a part of its arsenal. The touchdowns marked the 10th and 11th nonoffensive touchdowns by the Hurricanes this season.
"Those guys are playmakers," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "Team speed is one thing, but to have the ability to make people miss and score touchdowns is a knack that Roscoe and Devin have."
The irony of the Gators' special-teams struggles in their first game without Zook patrolling the sideline is that Zook, a former special-teams coordinator, was hands-on with the unit. The punt coverage coaching duties were handed over to defensive line coach Jerry "Red" Anderson.
For their efforts, Parrish was named the Peach Bowl's most outstanding offensive player and Hester the game's most outstanding defensive player. In addition to his touchdown, Hester intercepted a Chris Leak pass in the second quarter. Parrish finished with four catches for 63 yards.
"When I saw Hester return that field goal, I was on the sideline and I was just amazed," Gator sophomore receiver Jemalle Cornelius said. "They have a lot of team speed with Roscoe Parrish returning that punt. I think they are world class sprinters, so you look at that and you have to chuckle at it. There is nothing else you can do about it."