2004 marked the closing stages of the early 2000s powerhouse Canes, as well as Miami’s first season as a part of the ACC. 3 disappointing conference losses relegated the Canes postseason hopes to the Peach Bowl, where the 14th-ranked Canes met the 19th-ranked Florida Gators. UF was a couple seasons ahead of their time, led by eventual national championship-winning QB Chris Leak and interim head coach Charlie Strong, and their lack of experience showed against a Canes squad that still contained national championship-winning players of their own.
The Canes defense was spectacular in this contest, holding the Gators to 3.6 yards per carry and a 49% completion percentage with two interceptions. The Canes offense, however, was not nearly as successful, with only 277 total yards and 2 turnovers of their own. The difference in the game came from special teams, where the Canes stifled any hope of good field position for the Gators while also scoring 2 touchdowns, the first of which came when Florida attempted a field goal from Miami’s 22 yard line to break the scoreless tie:
While there was some luck involved in how perfectly the ball bounced to the best returner in the history of football, the penetration through the line, the awareness to get their hands on the ball, and the actual return were purely representative of the superior talent of Miami football. 3 Gators had what should be an easy angle to at least knock Devin Hester out of bounds, but the future hall-of-famer’s acceleration was other-worldly, as he was able to turn the corner on a defender a yard behind him, and then shot down the sideline like a surfer emerging from a fully-curled wave. Hester followed this play up with an interception and 28-yard return in the third quarter, but his game-opening touchdown will remain the lasting image Canes fans remember from this game for years to come.