TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Urban Meyer walked away from Florida with a win against Joe Paterno, who insists Penn State’s disappointing season won’t be his last.
Meyer closed out a highly successful six-year run that included a pair of national championships by leading the Gators back from a second-half deficit to beat JoePa’s Nittany Lions 37-24 in the Outback Bowl on Saturday.
Omarius Hines and Mike Gillislee ran for touchdowns, Chas Henry kicked three second-half field goals, and Ahmad Black sealed the win with an 80-yard interception return TD to help Florida (8-5) send Meyer out with a smile.
The 46-year-old coach resigned last month because of health concerns and to spend more time with his family.
Meyer and the 84-year-old Paterno met at midfield for a postgame handshake that was anything but typical.
“He said, ‘I love you kid,’” Meyer said. “He’s the only one who calls me kid. And I love him too.”
As for Paterno, he — and his wife and Penn State officials — spent the week leading up to the game repeatedly shooting down rumors that the Outback Bowl could be his last.
He expects to be back for a 46th season with Penn State (7-6). At one point, he called the speculation about his future — including reports that he might be in poor health and had been hospitalized — “ridiculous.” He reiterated Friday that he has no plans to retire.
Meyer initially resigned in December 2009 only to change his mind the following day, returning for what turned out to be a disappointing year for a program he guided to national championships two of the past four seasons.
He sent shockwaves through college football again on Dec. 8 when stepped down again. he could be heading for a broadcasting job.
The Gators moved quickly to hire former Texas head coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp as Meyer’s replacement.
He’ll inherit a talented team that on Saturday continued to make the type of mistakes that contributed to their worst record in six seasons under Meyer, who won Southeastern Conference championships and national titles in 2006 and 2008.
John Brantley threw an interception on Florida’s first play from scrimmage, Andre Debose mishandled a kickoff leading to the Gators starting their second possessions from their own 6 and Trey Burton — one of three quarterbacks Meyer used — cost his team when he fumbled into the end zone after a short run to the Penn State 1.
Matt McGloin turned Brantley’s interception into a 5-yard TD pass to Derek Moye for a 7-0 Nittany Lions lead. Cornerback D’ Anton Lynn recovered Burton’s fumble for a touchback that helped Penn State stay ahead until Florida’s Hines scored on a 16-yard end around set up by an interception — the Gators’ second off McGloin.
Lerentee McCray returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown that gave Florida a brief 14-7 lead. McGloin’s 44-yard completion to Moye positioned Penn State for Michael Zordich’s 1-yard TD run, and the Nittany Lions took advantage of a short punt to go up 17-14 at the half on Collin Wagner’s 20-yard field goal.
Henry kicked field goals of 30, 47 and 20 yards, the latter giving Florida a 30-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Penn State led 24-17 after McGloin scored on a 2-yard run set up when Henry, who’s also Florida’s punter, was stopped short of a first down on a fake punt play.
The Nittany Lions quarterback threw five interceptions after only being picked off four times in 174 passing attempts during the regular season. He finished 17 of 41 for 211 yards and one touchdown.
Florida’s fourth interception — Black’s second of the day — stopped a potential game-winning drive after McGloin marched the Nittany Lions to the Gators 26 with under two minutes to go.
Black cut in front of intended receiver Kevin Haplea and headed up the sideline in front of Penn State bench.
After the safety reached the end zone, Meyer received a Gatorade bath and Florida faithful among the announced crowd of 60,574 began chanting “Urban Meyer, Urban Meyer.”