A 38-20 win over the then-No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2 SEC), which was more dominant than the score indicates, has given the Florida Gators (4-3, 3-3 SEC) and head coach Will Muschamp new life.
Muschamp met with the media after the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Saturday to discuss Florida breaking its three-game losing streak at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Gators hoping to turn a page this season.
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Despite the Gators’ victory, the Bulldogs still hold a 49-41-2 all-time advantage over their border rivals in the Florida-Georgia game. UGA also leads 43-38-1 for games played in Jacksonville. UF, however, is 19-6 against its rival since 1990.
» By locking up a victory, the Gators avoided four-straight losses to the Bulldogs, which would’ve occurred for the first time since dropping six in a row from 1978-83.
» It was the third time in the series that an unranked UF defeated a ranked UGA.
» Florida was an 11.5-point underdog entering the game despite Georgia not winning a game in the series by more than eight points since 1997.
» The victory ensured that UF’s senior class would not be the first since 1983 to go winless against UGA in their collegiate careers.
» Muschamp won his first-ever Florida-Georgia game after going 0-4 as a UGA player and starting 0-3 as a UF coach.
» The Gators had lost six-straight games against top 25 opponents before defeating the Bulldogs. UF is now 5-13 against ranked opponents under Muschamp.
» This was just Florida’s third game this season not decided by six points or fewer.
» The Gators (blue) and Bulldogs (red) each wore their respective team-color jersey. It is the first time this happened in the Florida-Georgia game since 1970.
» Treon Harris was the first true freshman quarterback to start a game for UF since 2011 (Jacoby Brissett) and the first to start a Florida-Georgia game since 2003 (Chris Leak).
» Running backs junior Matt Jones (192 yards) and sophomore Kelvin Taylor (197 yards) each set career-highs on Saturday. The rushers also had two touchdowns apiece.
» It was the first time in school history that UF had two backs each eclipse 120 yards in the same game.
» It was the first time since 2011 (Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey) that the Gators had two running backs eclipse 100 yards in the same game.
» The 418 rushing yards on Saturday were a season-high for the Gators (most since 1989) and most allowed by the Bulldogs since 1978 (second-most ever). Florida also had three runs (65 yards, 44 yards [twice]) that were the longest given up by Georgia this season. UF’s 418 rushing yards were also the most by a Muschamp team (second time over 400 in a single game).
» The Gators are 5-0 under Muschamp when rushing 50+ times and 9-0 when scoring three or more rushing touchdowns in a game.
» Florida only completed three passes in the game, its fewest in records dating back to 1996 (UF is 6-5 in 11 games with 10 or fewer completions).
“Just extremely proud of our football team and how they came out and performed. A little loss of words in our last time out as far as how we played against Missouri, very disappointing … a lot of negativity and all that. That’s part of it, and I’m not complaining about it, but for the guys to pull together to show – against a good football team, a top-10 football team – to come together and understand what’s at stake as far as our season’s concerned as far as three-[losses]-in-a-row, as far as sending our seniors out the right way, all of the things that are really critical and really important about this rivalry, and our guys understood it.
“We were able to make the plays when we needed to in the game. I felt like we played blocks decently up front. … We settled down defensively, played blocks better and tackled well. And then offensively, I mean, we just… We actually did have a plan to throw some passes in the game, and I know I’ll still disappoint a bunch of Florida fans with it, but why stop running the ball when you’re able to gain yards running? We were very successful all night. I thought Kurt Roper and our offensive staff did a fantastic job of being creative in finding ways to run the ball. Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, I think they’re both really good players and they’re guys that, given the opportunity, [can succeed]. We really put it on the offensive line this week and told those guys, ‘You need to go win the game; you got a true freshman starting.’ Really proud of Treon Harris. Here’s a young man, as a true freshman, to walk into this environment and play the way he played and orchestrate the offense and not have a whole lot of issues.
“Again, very happy for our players in understanding what we needed to do to be successful in the game and that was to dominate on both lines of scrimmage, try to stop the run … just extremely proud of our players, I really am. And I’m really happy for our fans; the Gator Nation gets to sit and enjoy that. It was great to see our side full at the end. For our fans to be able to enjoy and bask in that, I’m really happy for that as well. And I really appreciate their support.”
LOCKER ROOM CELEBRATION
Already down seven, Florida stalled in the red zone early in the first quarter. With high winds and a necessity to turn the game’s momentum back their way, the Gators ran a fake field goal with redshirt senior walk-on wide receiver Michael McNeely as the trigger man. McNeely, in at holder despite never normally playing the position, caught the snap, stood up and ran 21 yards into the end zone with some superb blocking from his teammates. The result? UF knotted the score at 7-7 and never trailed again.
“I’m just a risky guy as far as those things are concerned,” said Muschamp with a smile. “I’ll be honest with you, during my time at Florida, how many fakes have worked? [One], I think, Texas A&M. … I’ve tried fake punts [before]. We take situations in every game that we have things up, whether punt or field goal. It’s all about the look. If you don’t get the look, then we need to check out of it. We got the look we wanted and a fantastic job by our players.”
He added: “We were trying to be aggressive. We’re trying to win the game. Now, we’re not being stupid about being aggressive because it’s all calculated risks that you try. I’m not saying they all work, but we do try.”
Muschamp admitted that there was a lot of discussion throughout the week in regards to whether Georgia would notice when McNeely entered the game as the holder. Apparently, the Bulldogs missed it, and the result was McNelly – a coach and player favorite – finally getting his moment in the sun.
“Walk-on or scholarship, it doesn’t matter to me. The guy’s a good football player. He earned a scholarship [this season anyway],” explained Muschamp. “He’s hard-playing, fast, quick, good athlete. He can line up and play receiver as well as some of our guys. That’s just the type of guy he is. I didn’t even blink putting Mike in there.”
He added: “Mike runs extremely well. He does. He’s a very good athlete. Mike’s one of our best special teams players. He’s a really good athlete. … Mike works a lot at Publix. … I use him as an example for some of our guys all the time. ‘You guys complain about the food, you guys complain about this, why don’t you go do what he does?’ This guy is unbelievable. He’s a great kid. He’s unbelievable.”
How did McNeely see the play develop and feel after it was successful?
“It was awesome. I went out there when they called it, made sure I got the snap and everyone was lined up and everything. When I started running, it opened up perfectly,” he said. “They all did a perfect job. I just had to run. The hole opened perfectly. It was a great call by the coaches. Coach [Coleman] Hutzler drew it up perfectly. It was awesome.”
Sophomore safety Keanu Neal left the field early in Saturday’s game after injuring a lower extremity. He was fitted for crutches on the sideline and carted off to the locker room. Muschamp was unable to fully address the player’s health after the game but promised a more specific update on Monday.
“I’m not sure right now. They said the two words ‘high ankle,’ which is never good,” he said. “It looked like a pretty good sprain to me. We put him in a boot but that’s also precautionary. I’ve seen guys leave in a boot [Saturday] and practice on Tuesday.”
Also injured on Saturday was senior right guard Trenton Brown, who looked like he aggravated a knee ailment. Brown sat out a portion of the game but returned later in the contest. There was no update on his status after the game either.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on emotions stirred up by the victory: “I’m really happy four our players. There’s nothing more fun to be around than a victorious locker room. Seeing the joy on those guys’ faces and knowing we had four captains today and they were all from the state of Georgia … their last opportunity to play and win in this ballgame. Extremely happy and proud for them. I’m happy for our fans to be able to enjoy this. I know how frustrating it is for our fans to be able to enjoy this. I know how frustrating it is for our fans to deal with that. I hear it, I get their emails. I’m just really happy for everyone in the organization to understand and know that we won in dominating fashion.”
» Muschamp on Kelvin Taylor’s successful day: “I’ll tell you what. Kelvin Taylor is a team guy. He’s a very talented player, a guy that continues to work hard. He goes out to practice, he doesn’t complain, he loves being a Florida Gator and he loves his teammates. All of those things he exhibits in a first-class manner. That’s just the type of young man he is.”
» Muschamp on whether some job security pressure has been lifted off his shoulders: “No, this is Florida-Georgia. This is one of the great rivalries in all of college football. It’s about our football team. It’s about our university. It’s about their university, their football team. It’s so much bigger than that. That’s really minuscule to me.”
» Muschamp on Florida’s secondary: “Our coverage units were improved. They were much better. I was really proud with the efforts we made there in the off weeks.”
» Junior defensive back Brian Poole on Muschamp: “I’m extremely happy for coach. We needed this. This game was for him.”
» Poole on the fake field goal: “It was real big. I feel like that started the momentum in the game. After that, they never got it back. I was trying not to get too anxious and give it away, but I was excited. We had been practicing it all week. We kind of knew it was going to work.”
» Redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor on the victory: “It was good. We were happy because last year we felt we had it, let it slip away, we didn’t have enough time. This year it wasn’t deniable. We weren’t going to be denied this year. We knew we were going to win that game; we went out there and won it.”
» Redshirt senior center Max Garcia on whether the victory was joy or relief and whether the team won the game for Muschamp: “It’s all joy. It’s all joy for me. We were out there all excited to get this win. It was a team win all around. I’m just so proud of the guys that I play with. We’re never gonna quit. … I feel like just playing for coach added a little extra motivation to guys. If that’s what it takes to get guys motivated then so be it. My motivation comes from just playing for the guys next to me. I love everyone on this football team, especially on my offensive line because I know how hard they work.”