The 1968 Florida football team featured some all-time greats on the roster, folks like Steve Tannen, Guy Dennis, Jack Youngblood and, of course, Larry Smith. All of them would be All-Americans at Florida.
The Gators got off to a 4-0 start and then suffered a 22-7 loss to North Carolina and then had a 14-14 tie in Nashville against Vanderbilt. Then followed a 24-13 loss to Auburn at Florida Field and a week later a 51-0 loss to Georgia in Jacksonville. Florida would end the season with victories over Kentucky and Miami to finish 6-3-1.
The second game of the season was the Sept. 29 contest against Florida State. FSU had to this time defeated the Gators twice in eleven games. This was the second game since Lane Fenner failed to make a clean catch in the end zone that would have given the Seminoles the lead in the 1966 game. (We will review that game on Oct. 8).
The Seminoles did win in 1967, but in 1968 the Gators started a string of wins against the School Out West that would run through 1976. Seminole fans say the 1966 game put the intensity in the rivalry. Well if it did, the Gators took care of business and beat the FSU nine straight times. The wannabes were still wannabes.
Here’s a report on the 1968 game:
A fired-up Florida defense held Florida State’s offensive machine to one field goal Saturday as the fifth -ranked Gators ground out a 9-3 victory in a bruising cross-state football battle.
Florida fullback Larry Smith, powering through the line, tallied Florida’s only touchdown in the second quarter after a short kick and a five-yard penalty gave Florida the ball on the FSU 23.
Smith, gaining 20 of the 23 yards in seven smashes through the line, carried a Seminole defender across the goal as he scored from three yards out.
The sputtering Seminole offense twice drove to a first down on the Florida four-yard line but each time the Gator defense held.
Grant Guthrie kicked a 21-yard field goal after the first Gator goal-line stand to put the Seminoles on the scoreboard.
Florida’s Jack Youngblood scored on a 30-yard field goal after penalties and the stubborn Gator defense had backed the Seminoles deep into their own territory In the second quarter.
Florida was unable to move the ball after a kick from the end zone gave the Gators the ball on the Florida State 35 and a penalty moved it down to the 20. Youngblood took over from there, easily scoring the first three points of the game.
Penalties played a big part in the traditional rivalry as the teams fought for field position throughout the game with neither side able to put together a long drive.
Florida alternated quarterbacks Larry Rentz and Jack Eckdahl but the running of Smith and halfback Tom Christian provided most of the offense for the Gators.
Florida State’s All-America flanker, Ron Sellers, snagged several short passes, but time after time long throws that could have broken the game open went out of his reach. Sellers caught six passes for 50 yards.
Gary Pajcic, who tried to get the FSU offense going for the first three quarters, hit on 13 of 27 passes for 109 yards. Bill Cappleman, who took over for FSU in the fourth quarter, completed 3 of 9 aerials for 18 yards, giving FSU only 127 yards in the air — far below the yardage expected from the Seminoles.
Florida gained only 33 yards through the air, but had 129 yards rushing compared to 63 for Florida State.
Although Florida was rated No. 5 in the nation, Florida State had been considered a one-point favorite on the strength of its explosive offense that was smothered by Florida defenders.
The losses to Auburn and Georgia found some of the Gator power brokers becoming disenchanted with the Gators’ lack of an SEC title. Of course, Steve Spurrier, the quarterback who played two seasons earlier, would be the one who would deliver the Gators to that promised land some 23 years later.
The Gators are 9-2-1 on This Day in Gator History. The Gators have other wins against Florida Southern (1929), Stetson (1935), Wake Forest (1957), Mississippi State (1974, 1991, 1985) and Kentucky (1996, 2002). The losses were to Mississippi State (1940), Ole Miss (1946) and the tie was against Mississippi State in 1963.