GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Urban Meyer's first season at Florida started out promising, turned disappointing and ultimately was a success.
At least compared to recent years.
Chris Leak threw two touchdown passes, the defense created four turnovers and the No. 19 Gators overwhelmed 23rd-ranked Florida State 34-7 Saturday at The Swamp.
"There's a lot of juice right now from that win," Meyer said.
Florida (8-3) finished undefeated at home for the first time since 2000 and knocked off its top three rivals — Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State — in the same season for the first time since 1996.
"That's a big feat," Meyer said. "Our players really thrived on that. They brought it up often."
The Gators also assured themselves of not losing five games for the fourth consecutive year.
The Seminoles (7-4) may have reached a new low under longtime coach Bobby Bowden, losing three in a row for the first time since 1983.
"With the talent on this squad, to go out and play like we did is real embarrassing," quarterback Drew Weatherford said.
Florida State still has a chance to turn the season around, though. It can win the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference championship game next week in Jacksonville and advance to the Orange Bowl.
But few would believe that possible after FSU's last three games: losses to North Carolina State, Clemson and Florida. The Seminoles were outscored 89-36 in those contests.
"I told them we got a ball game next week as big as this one," Bowden said. "That's all you can do when you get beat."
Florida's victory against its in-state rival was the most lopsided in the series since a 52-20 win in the 1997 Sugar Bowl, which gave the Gators their lone national title.
Florida won this one with its most complete game of the season. The offense had long drives, the defense delivered constant pressure, and special teams scored a key touchdown.
"This goes down as a real big win," said Meyer, who replaced Ron Zook after three tumultuous seasons that dropped the Gators from being one of the premier programs in the Southeastern Conference. "There's a lot to take from this."
Meyer said the victory would give his team momentum heading into a bowl game, help recruiting and energize the offseason — and help the Gators overcome the disappointment that came from blowing a chance to win the SEC East two weeks ago at South Carolina.
"Obviously, we're here to play for championships. That didn't get done, but to go out and get a win against Florida State is huge," linebacker Todd McCullough said. "That's something this team can build on."
The Gators dictated the direction of the game.
Leak capped a 71-yard drive with an 8-yard TD pass to Chad Jackson on the first play of the second quarter.
Jackson finished with nine catches for 97 yards. Leak wasn't particularly precise, with several overthrows and underthrows, but he was 19-of-28 for 211 yards.
Leak threw an interception on the next possession, giving Florida State great field position at the Florida 27, but the defense forced a 45-yard field goal attempt.
The kick turned out to be disastrous for the Seminoles. Marcus Thomas split two linemen and blocked the low kick with his left hand. Reggie Lewis picked it up on one hop and returned it 52 yards for a score and a 14-0 lead.
"Gigantic," Meyer said. "The play of the day. That was the momentum switch."
Chris Hetland kicked a field goal in the third quarter to make it 17-0, then the Gators pulled away with 17 points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter — all following turnovers.