62 days to Florida Gator football: 1962 Gator Bowl

The 1962 Florida Gators stunned the football world by upsetting the heavily favored Penn State Nittany Lions in the Gator Bowl. At the end of the regular season, the Gators were not expected to play in a bowl game. They posted a 6-4 regular season record with losses to #8 Georgia Tech (SEC), Duke, #6 LSU (SEC), and rival Miami. The Gators were ranked 5th in the SEC, but they earned a spot in the Gator Bowl against #9 Penn State after Georgia Tech and Duke both declined invitations. Penn State was coming off a nine-win season and a Lambert Trophy as the best team in the East. Penn State coach Rip Engle did not think another SEC team, especially a four-loss SEC team, was a worthy opponent, nor did he think his team should have been relegated to the Gator Bowl instead of the Cotton Bowl.

Ray Graves and new defensive coordinator Gene Ellenson played upon Penn State’s arrogance by placing Confederate battle flags upon the players’ helmets. The Gators had their work cut out for them against a much larger, stronger, and talented Penn State team. Penn State boasted the sixth-best offense in the nation, averaged over 336 yards of offense per game, had a crafty dual-threat QB in Pete Liske, had an All American tailback in Roger Kochman, and were heavily favored by 9 points. The Gators did not have any marquee players, and had not played a vertical, passing offense all season. Gene Ellenson had the defense shift from a nine-man front (the predominant defense of the time against the run-heavy SEC) to a more pass-oriented eight-man front with a roving linebacker in a formation dubbed “the Monster”. The Monster held Penn State’s offense to only 139 yards, compared to Florida’s 248. The Gators handed Penn State their first bowl game loss since 1928 in a 17-7 upset.

Tom McEwen of The Tampa Tribune summed up the game : “Angry, aggressive, alert Floridians, Confederate flags glistening from their helmets, routed Pennsylvanians like no one since Bull Run yesterday and vindicated their selection in the Gator Bowl with the 17-7 muzzle they hung on the dazed Nittany Lions.”

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