Florida today demonstrated the way to beat Maryland. It's called the forward pass.
Gator quarterback Wayne Peace completed 30 of 46 passes for 282 yards and caught a touchdown pass on a trick play as Florida played ball control with its passing game en route to a 15-10 victory.
Charlie Wysocki, who needed 94 yards to become Maryland's all-time leading rusher, carried nine times for 19 yards, all in the first half, before leaving the game with a bruised left shoulder. The all-Atlantic Coast Conference tailback wore a sling on the flight home and was to be examined Sunday.
Peace didn't throw deep once against the 1-3-1 Terrapins. "They were just giving us the underneath pass routes, so I took them," he said after Florida's fourth victory in six games.
The Terrapins missed tackles, dropped passes, blew assignments and generally embarrassed themselves before 56,316 at Florida Field.
The Gator defense held the Maryland offense to 179 yards, and changed the flow of the game by sacking quarterback Norman (Boomer) Esiason in the end zone for a safety in the third quarter, erasing Maryland's 7-6 halftime lead.
Trailing 15-7, with 10:18 remaining, Maryland was confronted with a fourth-and-one situation at the Florida 15. Coach Jerry Claiborne decided to send Jesse Atkinson in to kick a field goal, and his 32-yarder cut the deficit to 15-10.
Claiborne was betting his team could score again, but Maryland punted with 2:37 remaining and gained only five yards in four downs before turning over the ball for good with 21 seconds left.
"The decision on fourth-and-one wasn't hard. Heck, they had already stopped us twice," Claiborne said, referring to two runs by John Nash for no gain after his nine-yard run on first down. "We wanted to score twice and win the game. We thought we would kick the field goal, then get the ball back and try to score again. We came too far to play for a tie."
Claiborne, his body and hair soaked with perspiration from the tropical weather, seemed more frustrated than after two previous losses and a disappointing tie. "I would play this game the same way again," he said firmly. "If we miss a few tackles, catch a few passes and throw a few straight, it would have been different."
Claiborne benched Esiason on Maryland's next-to-last offensive series. The sophomore completed 10 of 26 passes for 60 yards, and his replacement, senior Bob Milkovich, completed one of five passes for 18 yards.
"What is it with this team?" Esiason asked a reporter rhetorically. "I sure don't know. We've got so much talent, but lose three games we should have won. When I came in this locker room at halftime, I said to myself, 'We definitely got them beat.' "
When asked if Wysocki's absence made a difference, Esiason said, "We didn't have Charlie at (North Carolina) State and we won. Our offense is actually more diversified when he isn't on the field. He's a great back, but I don't think we lose anything when he's injured and not in the game."
Florida mistakes, more than anything Maryland did, led to the Terrapins' 7-6 halftime lead.
With less than three minutes remaining in the first quarter, Maryland's James Gross recovered a fumble at the Florida 20.
On first down, Esiason passed 13 yards to tight end John Tice, then Wysocki ran two yards to the five. On second down, Esiason found Tice wide open in the left corner of the end zone.
Brian Clark, Florida's all-time leading field goal kicker, missed from 45 and 50 yards. The deficit at halftime was 7-6 after his field goals of 31 and 50 yards.
Florida's defense took charge the third quarter. Maryland, after a punt, took over at its 11 and gained only two yards in two plays.
Florida rushed seven defenders on the third-and-eight situation, and strong safety Kyle Knight blitzed through untouched. He hit Esiason at the two and drove him back into the end zone for the safety and an 8-7 Florida lead.
"He learned a lesson -- that you can't drop back that close to the end zone," Claiborne said.
Starting at its 46 after the ensuing punt, Peace completed his longest pass of the day, a 36-yarder to tight end Mike Mularkey, who broke at least four tackles before going out of bounds at the 17. Jones' two rushes moved the ball to the nine.
On third and two, he took another handoff from Peace and took several steps toward the Florida sideline. Suddenly he spotted Peace running toward the left corner of the end zone. Gurnest Brown, Maryland's 250-pound tackle, chased Peace frantically. But Jones' high, lazy pass eluded his taped hands and Peace caught the ball for a 15-7 lead with more than eight minutes left in the third quarter.