Florida Gators hold on to top East Carolina 28-20 in 2015 Birmingham Bowl

By Adam Silverstein
January 3, 2015

As it often has for the program over the last four seasons, it took a defensive play to send the Florida Gators to victory in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

Florida (7-5) triumphed 28-20 over the East Carolina Pirates (8-5) despite being outscored in the second half and outgained 536-339 on the afternoon.

Gators sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III intercepted Pirates signal caller Shane Carden in the end zone with 1:20 remaining, ending ECU’s bid at a comeback victory while sending UF to its first bowl win since the 2011 season.


East Carolina took it to Florida first, ending a 12-play, 78-yard drive with a three-yard pitch-and-catch from quarterback Shane Carden to wide receiver Justin Hardy, who celebrated his score with a Gator Chomp. ECU 12 plays, 78 yards, ending on a 3-yard TD pass from Shane Carden to Justin Hardy, who celebrated with a Gator Chomp.

The Gators’ offense stalled early, and the Pirates looked prepared to charge down the field again, picking up a 3rd and 14 with a 15-yard draw by running back Chris Hariston. Florida’s defense changed the momentum, however, with junior defensive back Brian Poole intercepting Carden and returning the ball 29 yards for a touchdown, tying the contest at 7-7.

A blown up fourth-down conversion attempt by Hargreaves got the Gators the ball back in good field position, and Florida capitalized with a four-play, 68-yard scoring drive. Redshirt freshman RB Adam Lane Jr. was responsible for all four plays on the possession, charging 48 yards down the field on his first touch, three yards on his second, 15 yards on his third and into the end zone from two yards out on his fourth, registering his first-career touchdown in the process.

Freshman QB Treon Harris led the Gators on their third scoring drive, starting things off by picking up a first down on 3rd and 17 with a 24-yard quarterback keeper. Following a pass interference call that helped Florida move down the field, Harris hit freshman RB Brandon Powell for a 13-yard touchdown to cap a 13-play, 80-yard drive that put UF ahead 21-7.

The Gators came up with another big defensive play on their next series after allowing the Pirates to drive 68 yards down to Florida’s one-yard line. Freshman defensive lineman Gerald Willis blew up QB Kurt Benkert as he tried to cross the goal line, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Poole. ECU missed a 42-yard field goalless than a minute before halftime, sending UF into the break with a 21-7 advantage.

Florida allowed East Carolina to fight its way back into the game after the half with Harris throwing a bad interception down the middle of the field on UF’s opening possession. Carden took advantage, completing a 66-yard bubble screen to Hardy before finding WR Cam Worthy in the end zone for a touchdown to reduce ECU’s deficit to 21-14.

Needing an immediate response, the Gators got exactly that on their ensuing possession. Faced with 3rd and 5 at its on 14-yard line, Florida saw Harris complete a screen to sophomore WR Ahmad Fulwood, who accelerated down the sideline and to the house for an 86-yard touchdown that put UF back on top 28-14 early in the third quarter.

A Lane fumble at midfield gave the Pirates new life, but the Gators defense was able to hold despite committing an illegal hands to the face penalty that allowed East Carolina to take the ball inside Florida’s 10-yard line.

ECU settled for a 24-yard field goal on that possession and did the same a couple of possessions later, cutting UF’s lead down to eight points with 11:55 to play.

Redshirt junior QB Jeff Driskel took over for Harris midway through the third quarter as Harris began dealing with knee and elbow pain. The Gators had four consecutive three-and-out possessions under Driskel, and just as he was beginning to move the ball, sophomore WR Chris Thompson fumbled while trying to gain additional yardage following a reception. Luckily for Florida, a third sack by junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. stopped East Carolina in its tracks as it attempted to make the most of Thompson’s turnover.

The Pirates got one more opportunity, taking over at their own 42-yard line with 3:28 to play. A missed tackle allowed Hardy, who would have been tackled for no gain, to move 24 yards down the field on a pass from Carden. ECU then lucked out again, turning a fumble forced by Poole into a net 18-yard gain as the Pirates recovered the ball at the UF 5-yard line. East Carolina was unable to capitalize, however, as Hargreaves iced the contest with an interception in the end zone on a fade route.

Lane, named the game’s Most Valuable Player, had a career day with 16 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. Harris finished 5-of-11 for 123 yards with two touchdowns and an interception (adding 41 yards on nine carries), and Driskel completed 8-of-17 passes for 48 yards in his final game at UF. Driskel had the ball in his hand at the end of the contest, taking a bootleg nine yards to ice the game.

Florida lost a number of players to injury in the contest including Harris (knee, elbow) and junior linebacker Antonio Morrison (knee), neither of whom returned to the field after suffering his ailment.

With the victory, the Gators improved to 21-20 all-time in bowl games with their first victory since the 2012 Gator Bowl against Ohio State.

13 Comments

  1. TzrGtr16 says:

    Adam heard anything about TRob to Auburn? Bruce Feldman is reporting it’s a done deal

  2. g8ter27 says:

    Anyone know why Jones did not play today? I got up to use the bathroom during 1st quarter and think I tweaked an ankle and was out the rest of the game, Not sure but I believe it had something to do with me wearing my gator hat. Geez how many guys either were or acted injured today?

    • 305Gator says:

      My guess would be that Jones did not want to play and risk injury. At least he remained with the team and did not bail like DeBose or get suspended like Cummings. Thanks to him not playing we got a better look at Lane so it’s all good.

      • Michael Jones says:

        That’s a pretty sad lipstick-on-a-pig “at least.” I beg to differ. If that’s why he didn’t play, then he pretty much bailed just as much as Debose bailed.

        And Clowney already taught the NFL a lesson this year about investing in players who take themselves out of games for selfish reasons and let their teammates down. I’m guessing that won’t work too well for Matt Jones.

  3. SJ210 says:

    Thanks for all of your hard work this year Adam. I’m thankful this season is over. McElwain has his work cut out for him. I don’t think UF has 2-3 guys who’d start for ECU on offense. Treon doesn’t look like the answer at QB. OL is thin and inexperienced. WRs can’t catch. No TEs. Adam Lane was a bit of a bright spot. Where were Jones and Taylor today? I couldn’t disagree more with Muschamp regarding the talent level on this team. We’ll need 3 solid recruiting cycles to get back up to strength, considering this year is pretty much a lost cause. We appear to be on our way to becoming Tennessee. This will not be a quick turnaround.

  4. 305Gator says:

    Gators are 7 – 5. Not 6 – 6 like the graphics showed during the game and not 8 -5 like it says on this story.
    7 – 5
    Go Gators!

  5. 305Gator says:

    It was good to see all the young guys come in and contribute like Lane and Fulwood on offfense and all the bunch of freshmen and sophs on D, even the much maligned Gerald Willis. All of them did well.
    The offense was pedestrian again and would have struggled more if not for individual great plays like the Fulwood TD and the couple of big runs by Lane.
    Harris finished with 123 passing yards but most of those were on the one play by Fulwood. Can’t wait to get in a real offensive minded coaching staff to work with our QBs and WRs, boy do they need work.
    Hope Driskel has a monster year at Duke and dominates the sorry ACC, wish him well and glad to move on from that wasted time at UF.
    Now we turn to recruiting and wait to see what Big Mac can do to salvage this year’s class.
    GO GATORS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. SW Fl Joe says:

    Every position on the offense should be up for grabs this spring. Nobody on that side of the ball is irreplaceable including the coaches. Thank you for your service and good luck in your future endeavors.

  7. Dave Massey says:

    All I can say is that we won our bowl game. This offense was painful to watch all year. Seemed like Muschamp was still directing the play calling today. Can’t wait til next year and see what Coach Mac can do for our offense. Hope Grier turns out to be a good QB because I don’t think anybody else currently on the roster has a chance. That INT Harris threw….never mind. Even with a decent recruiting class this year, which is still greatly in doubt, we are going to be thin next year and inexperienced. Hopefully nobody was seriously hurt today. Time to bury the Muschamp era and get on to next year. GO GATORS!!!

  8. Fatback says:

    I’m glad that’s over, I love em but this team is painful to watch.

    Glad for Fowler, who actually had the balls to play, and probably increased his draft stock.

  9. scroud says:

    I think Driskel must have done something to really, really piss off the receivers, they just seem to drop anything he throws their way.

  10. chigator says:

    I find it interesting that Gator fans are so quick to pile on to negativity, but reluctant to acknowledge a job well done. DJ Durkin rallied a team that was in the middle of a coaching change, a number of injured players (both before and during the game), and a handful of players who decided they weren’t in it to win it. Nice job Dante Fowler, Adam Lane, Gerald Willis, and many others who stepped up. Best wishes to Antonio Morrison who once again came to play. Nice job Coach Durkin and thank you for your loyalty to the Gators, especially when it would have been easy to pack it in and focus soley on your next move.

  11. G2 says:

    Wow, we won but I cant get excited about beating ECU. I am glad its over, frustrating to watch. Expected a more wide open offense without Muschamp around but we got more of the same.

    With all the guys that could leave early and a dismal looking recruiting class at this point, we are gonna be hurting for the next couple of years, if not more. Hope Mac is a miracle worker, sure wish we could have kept BL and TR, that really hurts.

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