After two straight seasons of failure against their in-state rivals, the No. 4 Florida Gators found a winning formula to notch their first victory at Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium since 2008.
On a night in which a 10-point halftime was squandered, Florida (11-1, 7-1 SEC) showed resiliency against 10th-ranked Florida State (10-2, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) to battle back for a 37-26 win.
The Gators also notched their third victory against a top-10 opponent this year and put their name firmly into the BCS bowl discussion heading into conference championship week.
QUARTERBACKS — B
In his first start since sustaining an ankle injury against Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 10, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel had a tough re-introduction to the starting lineup.
Driskel was sacked four times by FSU’s heralded front four and struggled with his decision-making at times while under pressure.
Though he failed to throw the ball away consistently, Driskel was able to occasionally make plays with his feet to avoid the rush, including a long run of 21 yards.
He completed 15 of 23 passes for 147 yards and a 14-yard touchdown to give the Gators a two-score lead with 7 minutes left in the game.
Most importantly, he only played a part in one UF turnover — a botched exchange on a zone read play that led to a fumble.
RUNNING BACKS — A
Mike Gillislee became Florida’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004 and achieved his goal in convincing fashion.
The senior running back carried the ball 24 times for 140 yards and highlighted his record-setting night with a 37-yard touchdown score that gave the Gators a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter.
Gillislee thrived in Florida’s jumbo set, which — in similar fashion to UF’s win against LSU on Oct. 6 — provided a punishing offensive spark late in the game.
RECEIVERS — B
The Gators’ receiving corps, led by Jordan Reed’s 54 yards on four catches, made heady plays in the passing game when needed in the win.
Quinton Dunbar caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Driskel and was able to gain most of his yards after the catch.
While Florida could not hook up on a shot down the field — UF’s game-long pass was 21 yards — the aerial attack supplied enough offense to help swing the game back in the Gators’ favor.
OFFENSIVE LINE — B
Facing the nation’s No. 1 defense spearheaded by a vaunted pass rush, the Gators’ linemen made a statement Saturday after being pushed around for the last four weeks.
Though the offensive line allowed four sacks and played a large part in UF’s 12 penalties for 101 yards, the unit helped churn out 244 rushing yards against the Seminoles on the road.
Perhaps the most impressive moment for the Gators came after Matt Jones replaced an injured Gillislee in the fourth quarter. Behind UF’s line the freshman didn’t miss a beat and gained 81 yards on eight carries, including a 32-yard touchdown run.
DEFENSIVE LINE — A
Florida’s front four faced one of its toughest tasks of the season in a Florida State offense that averaged 493.5 yards per game.
In a hostile environment, the Gators’ defensive front was able to disrupt the Seminoles’ offensive rhythm enough to help force five turnovers and limit FSU to a season-low 300 yards.
Defensive end Dominique Easley (1 tackle, 1 pass breakup) recovered a fumble early in the fourth quarter that set up the Gators at the Seminoles’ 37-yard line for an eventual touchdown run to re-claim the lead.
Fellow junior Sharrif Floyd, a defensive tackle, recorded Florida’s lone sack.
Senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter (3 tackles, 1 for loss) also came up with two big tackles to stop Florida State on third-and-short.
LINEBACKERS — A
The Gators’ linebacker unit stemmed a Seminoles’ running game that never found traction against Florida’s defense.
Three FSU running backs combined for 58 yards on the afternoon, with quarterback EJ Manuel accounting for 54 yards.
Senior linebacker Jon Bostic (4 tackles) and freshman Antonio Morrison (4 tackles) were active for the Gators. Morrison knocked Manuel out of the game for a series late in the fourth quarter on a sack that also forced a fumble.
Jelani Jenkins, a junior, also hauled in one of Manuel’s three interceptions.
DEFENSIVE BACKS — A
Manuel came into his Senior Day against Florida averaging 253.2 yards per game through the air on a 68.8 completion percentage.
Thanks in large part to Florida’s secondary, Manuel left his final game in Doak Campbell Stadium on a 182-yard performance with three picks.
Safety Matt Elam (7 tackles, 1 for loss) and cornerback Marcus Roberson (2 tackles, 1 pass breakup) both intercepted passes and disturbed Manuel’s timing with his receivers on 54.5 percent passing.
Loucheiz Purifoy also made plays at the second level with six tackles and one forced fumble.
SPECIAL TEAMS — A
While the Gators gave up several uncharacteristically long returns against the Seminoles, Florida received a huge boost by Roberson’s 50-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that was finally stopped at the FSU 32-yard line.
Four plays later, the Gators punched in a Jones’ touchdown to claim a 30-20 on Florida State with 7 minutes left to play.
In the kicking game, senior Caleb Sturgis broke Jeff Chandler’s school record for career field goals with makes from 39 yards, 45 yards ad 32 yards.
Kyle Christy punted four times for the Gators on a 43.2-yard average.
COACHES — A
Credit UF’s coaching staff for its aggressive play calling against Florida State and rallying the troops for another fourth-quarter comeback.
However, there were a couple of silly calls in the game that squandered point-scoring opportunities for the Gators.
While Florida’s fourth-down attempt in the first quarter was a masterfully drawn play, the personnel choices of Trey and Clay Burton to try the conversion in such a critical moment were baffling.
Altogether though, it was an impressive coaching performance by Will Muschamp and Co. to keep Florida calm in an ever-changing game filled with costly turnovers and clear momentum shifts.