Florida's Steve Spurrier paid Joe Paterno the highest compliment yet - he imitated him.
Spurrier had said Paterno was his idol, praised him for an illustrious 32-year career at Penn State and constantly made mention of his record 18 victories in bowl games. On New Year's Day, Spurrier scrapped the razzle-dazzle in favor of smash-mouth football, grinding away behind a record game from running back Fred Taylor in a 21-6 victory over the Nittany Lions in the Citrus Bowl.Taylor carried 43 times for 234 yards, both records for the Citrus Bowl and by a Florida player in a bowl game. No run was longer than 15 yards, but all were effective in wearing down 11th-ranked Penn State (9-3).
"We tried to hand the ball off to Fred and not beat ourselves," Spurrier said.
If only Paterno could have had that option.
"I'm not going to make excuses like that. That's not fair to the kids who played," Paterno said. "I think you have to give the other guy credit. We didn't make the plays."
The Lions' offense was built around All-America Curtis Enis, who was suspended by Paterno for taking a suit from a sports agent to wear at an awards show.
Without him, the Lions had only 47 yards rushing - minus 1 at half-time - when they fell behind 14-3. More importantly, they twice failed on fourth-and-goal from the 1 late in the second quarter when they had a chance to turn the game in their favor.
"Those stops were actually the plays of the game," said Florida cornerback Fred Weary.
The sixth-ranked Gators (10-2) still tried the unconventional plays so common under Spurrier - there was a tight end reverse, a fake double reverse, a flea-flicker pass and their "Emory & Henry" formation, when the tackles line up near the sidelines next to the receivers.
Spurrier also rotated quarterbacks every other play - Noah Brindise scored on a 1-yard run to cap an 80-yard drive that opened the game and set the tone, and Doug Johnson threw a 35-yard touch-down pass to Jacquez Green.
When Johnson injured his right rotator cuff late in the third quarter, Spurrier put Canadian freshman Jesse Palmer into the mix. He threw a 37-yard TD pass to Green on his first pass in two months.
But it all went back to the running of Taylor and a defense that yielded only two drives longer than nine yards - staples of Paterno's style of football.
"The game was going to be won at the line of scrimmage," said Taylor, voted the most valuable player. "They came down here to play smash-mouth football. They think the SEC is soft, and they just found out that's not true."
Taylor's 234 yards broke the Citrus Bowl record set by Jim Gray of East Texas State in 1953. Only Emmitt Smith, who had 316 yards against New Mexico State in 1989, has had more rushing yards in a game for Florida.
And the performance came one game after Penn State gave up a team-record 452 yards in a loss at Michigan State.
"We were playing pretty good at the beginning of the season," said Penn State linebacker Brandon Short. "Then we leveled off - then we hit a canyon."
The offense went into an abyss.
Without leading receiver Joe Jurevicius, suspended for academic reasons, Mike McQueary was 10-of-32 for 92 yards - only three of those completions to receivers. He also was picked off three times.
One of those was on fourth-and-goal from the 1, when he rolled right and lofted a pass intended for Concho Brown. Mike Harris stepped in front for the interception just before halftime.
One series earlier, Short recovered a fumble that he caused on a run blitz, giving Penn State the ball at the 6. On fourth down from inches away, Tim Beauchamp stopped Chris Eberly - Enis' replacement - well short of the end zone.
The Gators didn't give Penn State any more chances.
When the game ended, Spurrier rushed to midfield and placed his visor on Paterno's head, consummating a friendly wager between the coaches - the loser would wear the winner's hat.
It looked like Spurrier was wearing a Penn State hat all along.