Call it the reincarnation of the Flu Game. With 22 players either catching the flu or dealing with flu-like symptoms this week, the No. 25 Florida Gators (5-0, 3-0 SEC) would not be denied, pulling off one of the most dominant wins over a Southeastern Conference opponent in the history of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a 38-10 domination of the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels (4-1, 2-1 SEC) in a game that was never close from the start.
OnlyGators.com breaks down six of the most important takeaways from the Gators’ victory.
Top of the East? With Georgia losing earlier in the day, Florida is now at the top of the SEC East with a perfect 3-0 mark in league play. The Gators are also playing the best football out of any team in the division, routing the Rebels just one week after coming from behind to beat Tennessee with two late fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Though UF still has a long ways to go and will be playing away from home for the entire month of October, Florida is in the division’s driver seat for the first time since 2012, when it ended up not winning. An SEC Championship appearance is possible for the Gators for the first time since 2009.
Florida still has to play talented Missouri, at top-10 LSU and against ranked Georgia before getting to a nonconference home game against Florida State.
When there’s a Will … Head coach Jim McElwain refused to name redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier the team’s permanent starter after the game. Well, that’s just hooey. There is no one else but Grier to lead the Gators going forward, not after his performance Saturday night.
Grier finished the contest 24 of 29 for 271 yards with four touchdowns – to four different receivers – and no turnovers. All four of his touchdown tosses came in the first half, giving him six passing scores in three quarters dating back to the final five minutes of Florida-Tennessee last week.
Mr. Robinson returns: It had been a rough start to the season for junior wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, but he most certainly came through when the Gators needed him the most. Robinson picked up 98 yards and a score on eight receptions. He was efficient with his moves after the catch (for the most part), picked up extra yardage rather than skirting out of bounds and fought for big gains. He would’ve had another long reception had it not been for a not-called pass interference that swallowed him up down the right sideline.
For a Florida team still hoping to establish playmakers, Robinson’s emergence was an important note on the game. Freshman WR Antonio Callaway, who to this point had been UF’s star, still finished with six catches for 30 yards and a touchdown. Also impressing were sophomore WR Brandon Powell, who took his lone reception 77 yards for a touchdown, and redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee, who picked up six grabs for 29 yards and a touchdown on a play-action pass from Grier.
Pressure was on: Offense gets all the credit, but it was the Gators’ defense that really set the tone Saturday. Florida kept the pressure on with four sacks, 11 tackles for loss and four QB hits. The Gators also recovered three fumbles (two forced) and saw junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III intercept a ball in the fourth quarter that nearly iced the game.
Two of the turnovers Florida almost took back for scores with Hargreaves going out in the red zone and freshman defensive end CeCe Jefferson getting tackled on the 1-yard line after scooping up a fumbled hand-off in mid-air.
Senior linebacker Antonio Morrison led the way with 13 tackles (3.5 for loss), Hargreaves was next with seven, and senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard grabbed five with 1.5 for lost yardage.
Something special: Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Florida’s success was the tremendous punting of redshirt sophomore Johnny Townsend, who booted the ball five times for 235 yards, averaging 47.0 yards per punt with longs of 57 and 54 yards. Equally effective on special teams was junior WR Chris Thompson, who as a gunner dominated with two major hits (the latter of which drew a penalty but was still an electric play).
The Gators being deep in the red zone all night helped redshirt freshman kicker Jorge Powell, who recovered from a missed extra point to kick the first two field goals of his career from 31 and 22 yards out in the fourth quarter.
Historic victory: The Gators snapped an 0-for-11 streak against teams ranked Nos. 1-3 in the AP Top 25 poll in regular-season games. It was Florida’s first victory in such a circumstance since Sept. 18, 1999 against Tennessee.