Despite Florida’s impressive record this season, the Gators had failed to thoroughly dominate lesser competition coming into Saturday.
In the season opener against Bowling Green, the Gators stumbled a victory late in the game. The same thing happened against Louisiana-Lafayette, except the game was even closer.
Finally, Florida (10-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) took care of business early against an overmatch opponent.
Scoring twice in the first quarter for the first time this season, No. 6 Florida beat Jacksonville State 23-0 on Saturday.
In doing so, the Gators finished their home slate of games unbeaten for the first time since 2009. Here are the five keys to the victory.
5. Special teams
Although Caleb Sturgis had a field goal attempt blocked, Florida’s special teams came through again.
Kyle Christy’s punt early in the third quarter pinned Jacksonville deep in its own end, which led to Jon Bostic’s interception for a touchdown to give Florida a 17-0 lead.
Strugis also made three field goals in the game, helping Florida’s struggling offense put points on the board.
Conversely, Jacksonville’s Griffin Thomas badly missed two field goals, which cost the Gamecocks six points in the first half.
4. Unexpected contributions
With Hunter Joyer sidelined and nursing a thigh injury, backup fullback Scott Peek came on and helped open holes for Mike Gillislee.
When Chaz Green was stuck riding a bicycle to help an ankle injury, freshman D.J. Humphries came in and helped the offensive line keep Jacoby Brissett upright.
Florida has lived by a man down, man up manta the entire season, something that has helped the Gators to 10 wins. Saturday, it rung true again.
3. Seniors stepping up
On the team’s Senior Day, it was the designated group that came up large.
All 23 of Florida’s points in the game came from seniors as Mike Gillislee rushed for a 7-yard touchdown, Caleb Sturgis made three field goals, and Jon Bostic intercepted a pass and returned it seven yards for a touchdown.
Omarius Hines was helpful in the first half offensively. Hines caught two passes for 37 yards before halftime and just missed what would have been a long touchdown reception as Brissett faced pressure and overthrew him.
2. Running game
Florida’s first drive of the game went for 80 yards and a touchdown. On the drive, Jacoby Brissett was asked to throw the ball just once. Otherwise, it was a steady diet of Mike Gillislee and Matt Jones that set the tone for the Gators.
Having struggled recently to establish the run, Florida was determined to develop a strong downhill running game, which it did.
Gillislee galloped into the end zone from seven yards out to give the Gators the lead, one they would never relinquish. The touchdown was his first in more than a month.
On the next drive, the Gators again pounded Jacksonville State on the ground, the theme of the day.
Florida finished the game with 202 yards on the ground.
1. Defense, defense, defense
Jacksonville State used a fluky catch-and-run to pick up 76 yards on its first offensive play of the game and did little else for the rest of the contest.
The Gamecocks never again entered Florida’s red zone and could barely scrape together a couple of attempted field goals.
Florida picked up its second shutout of the season — the first coming in a 38-0 victory against Kentucky on Sept. 22 — with the 23-0 win.
Jacksonville State finished with just 242 total yards of offense, went 4-for-16 on third downs and appeared completely overmatched.