The 2012 season opener was not as much of a statement game as the No. 23 Florida Gators (1-0) hoped it would be despite the fact that the home team scored the final 13 points of the contest to earn a 27-14 victory over the Bowling Green Falcons (0-1) on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
Florida jumped on the back of senior running back Mike Gillislee, who rushed a career-high 24 times for a career-high 148 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, who played the majority of the game under center for UF, added the other big score for the Gators on a 50-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. in the fourth quarter. He finished 10/16 for 114 yards and a touchdown, also taking three carries for 24 yards.
Head coach Will Muschamp surprised the crowd when Driskel and sophomore QB Jacoby Brissett were both on the field for the first offensive snap of the game. Brissett took the feed from the center with Driskel out wide but hurried off the field after handing the ball off, leaving the first two series to Driskel.
Bowling Green would strike first, ending a 12-play, 89-yard drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown by RB John Pettigrew. QB Matt Schilz completed seven-of-eight passes on the drive as the Falcons easily drove the ball down the field.
After the Gators committed two penalties on Driskel’s first series, he returned and led Florida on a 13-play, 85-yard drive that was concluded by a 15-yard touchdown by Gillislee. The Gators handed it off 11 times on the drive with Driskel only attempting (and completing) two passes but nevertheless tied the contest with 9:29 left in the first half.
Florida’s defense stepped up in a big way on the next two Bowling Green drives, forcing the Falcons into consecutive three-and-outs including a shanked 16-yard punt that fell out of bounds at their own 38-yard line.
The Gators took advantage of the miscue on the very next play as Gillislee scampered 38 yards down the right sideline into the end zone to give Florida a 14-7 lead with 5:03 remaining in the half. Brissett led the Gators on the final three drives of the half, including Gillislee’s touchdown, but did not register any additional points.
Driskel returned to start the second half but did not succeed in moving the ball much on his first series. The Falcons made the Gators pay by driving 55 yards in eight plays; the possession was capped off by a 12-yard touchdown run from RB Anthon Samuel.
A shanked punt by Bowling Green’s Brian Schmiedebusch, who executed a great fake early in the quarter, gave Florida great field position in the middle of the third, but the Gators were unable to move the ball and settled for a 34-yard field goal by redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis to jump on top 17-14 with 7:42 left in the quarter.
The Falcons once again drove on the Gators, taking the ball 57 yard in 10 plays, but were unable to capitalize as K Stephen Stein missed his second field goal of the game, this one from 29 yards out.
Escaping a dire situation, Florida gave the ball right back to Bowling Green three players later when Driskel and redshirt senior Omarius Hines fumbled a handoff.
Gators sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson stole the ball three players later when he picked off Schilz on Florida’s 16, returning the ball 31 yards. UF took advantage two plays later when Driskel hit Hammond for the 50-yard score.
The Gators defense took over from there, forcing the Falcons off the field on their next four possessions, one of which included a muffed punt that was recovered by junior long snapper Drew Ferris, who appeared to get injured on the play.
Florida’s running game afforded them two additional field goal opportunities over the duration of the game. Sturgis nailed a 52-yarder with less than nine minutes left but shanked a 27-yarder off the left goal post with 44 seconds remaining.
Penalties were a problem all game for the Gators but especially in the first half as Florida committed 14 total for 106 yards. UF outgained BGSU 365-327 over the course of the game mostly due to rushing for 220 yards as a team thanks to the efforts of Gillislee.
Florida held Bowling Green to 4-of-17 on third downs but allowed the visitors to go 3-for-5 on fourth. The Gators were 5-for-16 and 1-for-2 in the respective situations.
Brissett went 3/5 for 31 yards in limited action. Hammond led the receivers with three receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown and was joined by four other players with at least two receptions.
Redshirt junior WR Andre Debose looked sharp in the return game, registering a 38-yard kickoff return and 32-yard punt return.
The Gators had 5.0 tackles for loss (one sack by junior defensive end Dominique Easley) and won the turnover battle 2-1 thanks to Roberson’s interception and Ferris’s fumble recovery on the muffed punt. Senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic had a team-high eight tackles (five solo) in the contest.
Florida will look to grow from this experience before they travel to College Station, TX next Saturday to take on Texas A&M at 3:30 p.m. in their host’s first-ever Southeastern Conference game. The contest will air live on ESPN.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press