No. 8 Florida Gators football (10-1) survived a tough test from the Florida Atlantic Owls (2-9), eventually scoring a touchdown in the first overtime to pull off a 26-20 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
With the victory, Jim McElwain became the winningest first-year head coach in program history, picking up his 10th win – one more than Urban Meyer (2005), Steve Spurrier (1990), Galen Hall (1985) and Ray Graves (1960).
Here are six immediate takeaways from the Gators’ latest victory.
Massive struggles: Aside from his 53-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Antonio Callaway (which ended a short four-play, 91-yard scoring drive that put Florida up 14-0), sophomore quarterback Treon Harris was dreadful Saturday. Aside from being inaccurate and ineffective most of the day, Harris also turned the ball over twice. First, he threw up a duck into the end zone that was intercepted, ruining a potential scoring drive. Then midway through the fourth quarter, Harris was strip sacked, fumbling the ball into the end zone and giving FAU a game-tying touchdown at 14-14. Harris did throw the game-winning touchdown, a 13-yard strike to redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee in the first overtime, but otherwise had a forgettable performance going 8-of-17 for 122 yards with 26 more on the ground.
Defense steps up: With the game scoreless, Florida’s defense made some noise when the team needed it to the most. Senior linebacker Antonio Morrison forced a fumble on a strip sack, and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Taven Bryan brought the ball back 48 yards down to FAU’s 2, which UF converted into a touchdown. Then again, with the game tied 14-14, the defense got the Gators out of what looked like another jam. The Owls carried the ball out to midfield when redshirt sophomore defensive back Nick Washington forced a fumble that was recovered by redshirt junior DB Marcus Maye with just over five minutes to play. UF’s defense also held on the final series of the game, suffocating FAU on four plays starting with 1st & Goal from the 9.
Stuntin’ like his daddy: Junior running back Kelvin Taylor scored his 13th rushing touchdown of the season following Bryan’s fumble return, tying his father Fred Taylor and Emmitt Smith for fifth-most in a single season in school history. Kelvin Taylor finished Saturday’s game with 98 yards on 25 touches with a long of 20.
First half failings: Florida was horrid in the first half of Saturday’s game; it got outgained 150-69 by FAU, and the Gators went 0-for-6 on third down attempts over the first 30 minutes. The Owls got the hosts to bite on a fake punt late in the first quarter, and UF was unable to capitalize on a 52-yard punt return by Callaway, only getting three yards of offense and seeing redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin boot a 33-yard field goal off the left field goal post.
Up and down: Sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor had a black-and-white day for the Gators, getting beat and stiff-armed on consecutive plays only to turn around with a clutch thieving interception later in the contest. Tabor also had a couple clutch pass breakups on the afternoon — five on the day total — and finished with four solo tackles.
Stars absent: In addition to the three defensive linemen the Gators had sidelined for the game, Florida saw senior Jonathan Bullard go down early with a knee injury on a chop block, only to return to the field after spending some time getting tested in the locker room. Florida did lose junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III for the majority of the contest, however. Hargreaves went into the locker room late in the second half and did not return; it was later revealed that he was dealing with an upset stomach and eating crackers given to him by trainers.