It was difficult to know exactly why it all went wrong for the University of Florida--or how it all went right for Washington--in the Freedom Bowl Saturday.
But rest assured, Florida had a miserable day and Washington had a brilliant one.
Florida’s rushing game, led by All-American Emmitt Smith, ran smack dab into Washington’s rock-solid defense and was rendered useless. Averaging 244 yards, Florida could scratch out just 121.
The Gators couldn’t stop Washington’s efficient passing game or its steady rushing as the Huskies gained 217 yards on the ground and 242 through the air.
It added up to a 34-7 Washington victory before 33,858 at Anaheim Stadium.
The Huskies (8-4) scored on their first three possessions, building a 17-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Florida (7-5) had given up only 28 points in the first quarter this season, just one more bad sign for the Gators.
Washington quarterback Cary Conklin threw a 21-yard scoring pass to Mario Bailey on the Huskies’ first drive.
Florida (7-5) came right back on quarterback Donald Douglas’ 67-yard touchdown run. But it proved to be the only resistance the Gators could muster.
After the Huskies’ second drive stalled at the Gator four-yard line, John McCallum kicked a 21-yard field goal.
Drive No. 3 ended in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Conklin to Andre Riley.
After that, Washington’s defense took over, bashing Smith to the turf at every turn.
“I’m not sure there was a game this season where we had all three (kicking, offense and defense) going together for us,” Washington Coach Don James said.
The most notable statistics were Smith’s.
Smith, a junior who has twice finished in the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy voting, was held to 17 yards in seven carries.
It was his lowest rushing total since the first game of his freshman season against Miami. Then, as a promising but untested reserve from Pensacola, Fla., Smith gained 16 yards in five carries.
It was only the second time this season, and only the eighth time in his career, that he was held to less than 100 yards.
“I didn’t expect to come into the game and run all over Washington,” said Smith, who averaged 126 yards a game in the regular season. “When the defense is designed basically to stop the run, you’re not going to run over them. It’s not easy to run against an eight-man front.”
Eugene Burkhalter, a junior safety who seemed to be everywhere for the Huskies, thought it would be tougher to stop Smith.
“All we had to worry about was Emmitt,” Burkhalter said. “It looked to me like he didn’t want to be out here. But I don’t know if that’s for me to say.
"(Smith) wasn’t effective, but that wasn’t because of him. That was because of us.”
To be sure, Washington’s defensive front, anchored by 6-foot-4, 300-pound end Dennis Brown and supported by Burkhalter, stifled the Gators. But time of possession was a factor, too.
Washington controlled the ball for 41 minutes 52 seconds, leaving Florida the remaining 18:08. In the end, the Gators didn’t have the ball so they couldn’t run with it.
After Florida fell behind, Smith played sparingly. He had only two carries for three yards in the second half as the Gators turned to the pass.
That didn’t work either.
Douglas, a freshman, completed eight of 18 passes for 91 yards and one interception. Lex Smith, another freshman who replaced Douglas in the second quarter, was three of 10 for 57 yards.
“Shutting down both their quarterbacks was a key,” Brown said. “We were in the backfield causing a lot of havoc. And we had them confused for a while.”
Washington increased its lead to 24-7 when Jaime Fields recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown.
McCallum added a 32-yard field goal with 18 seconds left and the Huskies led, 27-7, at halftime.
The Gators sputtered just as badly in the second half as their best scoring chance ended with Douglas fumbling at the Washington seven late in the third quarter.
Washington added a 20-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Mark Burnell for the final score.
Conklin left the game with eight minutes to play after competing 21 of 39 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m surprised the game was not close,” said Conklin, who was named Washington’s most valuable player. “We executed everything very well. It was fun out there. I felt like a doctor, just picking away. They weren’t covering up people the whole first half.”
That was most evident on the Huskies’ first touchdown.
Conklin found Bailey wide open down the middle for a 21-yard touchdown pass play. The Gators tried to cover Bailey with inside linebacker Jerry Odom, who was overmatched.
“I knew right off the bat that we had a mismatch there,” Conklin said. “We had the right play called and I knew (Bailey) could get a couple of steps on the linebacker.”
Washington’s new one-back offense, designed to spread the defense, also made the Huskies’ ground game stronger.
Running back Greg Lewis found gaping holes on his way to 103 yards in 27 carries.
Washington’s 217 yards rushing was the most Florida, fifth-ranked in the nation against the run, had given up this season.
“Our offensive line manhandled them today,” Lewis said. “When our offensive line is going like that, it makes things easier for me.”
Easy was the best way to describe Washington’s victory.