Gardner, Defense Take Over in 30-3 Outback Bowl Win

The Gators forced three fourth-quarter turnovers, set a record for fewest points allowed in a bowl game and finished the season with a 9-4 record. Safety Chauncey Gardner hits the end zone on his 58-yard interception return to start the fourth quarter of Monday’s Outback Bowl rout of Iowa. TAMPA, Fla. — The explosive play was an elusive one for the Florida offense during the 2016 football season. Oh sure, that really big one at LSU jumps to mind. The 98-yard touchdown strike that basically turned the game and helped turn the Gators toward a Southeastern Conference Eastern title. It was huge. Beyond that, though? Not much.

But add Monday’s catch-and-run by seldom-seen running back Mark Thompson to the very short list. Thompson, the junior college transfer with few touches the second half of the season, took a screen pass from Austin Appleby and sped through the Iowa defense for an 85-yard touchdown late in the second quarter to provide the spark the No. 20 Gators needed and set in motion a decisive 30-3 trampling of No. 21 Hawkeyes before 51,119 in the Outback Bowl Monday at Raymond James Stadium.

"I’m going to tell everyone it was an 85-yard bomb," Appleby said.

Go ahead, young man. In the books, it might as well be, as far as how it jacked the UF sidelines and what it meant for the big picture of the Florida program. The win helped UF (9-4) avoid a similar end-of-year, three-game spiral that haunted the Gators all last offseason. Instead, Florida allowed Iowa (8-5) one measly first-quarter field goal on its way to setting a team record for fewest points allowed in a bowl game, while the 27-point final margin of victory tied for the fourth largest in the program’s 44-game bowl history.

Nice way to head into the offseason.

"That was a heckuva game for us. That’s a really good team we played, a very physical team and a team that knows how to prepare," UF coach Jim McElwain said. "I think it speaks volumes of our guys to get ready and go play in a bowl game in January. I’m so proud of them. It’s well-documented how beat up we were and never once all year did we use that as an excuse in any way, shape or form. It was, ‘Next man up!’ " Tailback Mark Thompson on his 85-yard touchdown reception off a screen pass from Austin Appleby that gave the Gators the lead in the second quarter; one they never relinquished, as it turned out. Appleby completed 14 of 25 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and a couple of interceptions, and tailback Jordan Scarlett rushed for 94 yards, but it was true freshman safety Chauncey Gardner Jr., who came away with the game’s Most Valuable Player honors. Gardner, the replacement for NFL-bound Marcus Maye (broken arm), intercepted a pair of fourth-quarter passes, returning the first 58 yards for a touchdown to push the Gators in front by 21.

"It just felt like we got our […]