A 24-point fourth quarter for the No. 4 Florida Gators (11-1) turned around what looked to be an epic collapse and clinched a 37-26 win over the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles (10-2) at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL.
Florida senior running back Mike Gillislee led the way for the Gators offense, rumbling for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. That unit got plenty of support from the defense and special teams, which combined to recover five turnovers on the afternoon. Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis was also clutch for UF, making all three of his field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards.
Florida opened up the game throwing, completing two of its first three passes and tossing the ball eight times on a 14-play, 54-yard drive that lasted 5:47 and ended with a 39-yard field goal Sturgis. Florida State took the kickoff at the 35-yard line after Sturgis booted it out of bounds and got down to UF’s 27 in just two plays. However, a third-down interception thrown by FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel and caught by junior safety Matt Elam ended the possession without any points going on the board.
The Gators looked to be stalled at their own 34-yard line on their next drive, but a 31-yard scramble by sophomore QB Jeff Driskel extended the possession, which wound up going 62 total yards. Faced with 3rd-and-1 at the Seminoles’ 26, Driskel threw incomplete on a play action and junior running back Trey Burton missed brother and sophomore tight end Clay Burton on a muddle huddle play attempted on fourth down.
A few possessions later, Florida put together another long drive but stalled short of the end zone. The Gators converted two third-down tries but settled for a 45-yard field goal to take a 6-0 lead after gaining 54 yards in 10 plays.
Florida got another big play from its special teams on the ensuing kickoff as junior linebacker Darrin Kitchens forced a fumble that was recovered by sophomore defensive back Jabari Gorman at Florida State’s 21-yard line. Three plays later, Gillislee rumbled nine yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, giving UF a 13-0 lead with 5:26 left in the first half.
The Seminoles were able to hold on to the ball on the next kickoff, but Manuel threw his second interception of the game on the opening play from scrimmage, tossing a bullet right into the hands of redshirt junior Will LB Jelani Jenkins. The Gators would waste the possession by getting called for two penalties and suffering a big loss on third down.
Florida State finally made some offensive gains on its last possession of the first half as Manuel completed three passes and scrambled for 23 yards to put his team in field goal range. The Seminoles reduced its deficit to 13-3 at the half as K Dustin Hopkins knocked in a 50-yard field goal.
UF won the time of possession battle 21:58-8:02 in the first half and nearly doubled up FSU on offense but had a bigger advantage before the home team’s final possession as it sported a 192-53 advantage through the first 27:50 of the opening half.
Read the rest of the Florida-Florida State game story…after the break!
The second half opened where the first left off as Florida State continued to move the ball on Florida. UF sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy forced a fumble on a long completion, but FSU recovered and continued driving. One play later, sophomore CB Marcus Roberson intercepted Manuel in a play that was upheld by review.
The Gators wasted another turnover by committing a holding penalty on first down and losing 15 yards on an intentional grounding call. Sophomore punter Kyle Christy got the ball out to midfield, but the Seminoles returned it to UF’s 25-yard line to begin their offensive possession. FSU scored a few plays later as Manuel hit TE Nick O’Leary for a six-yard touchdown.
Florida State, after kicking the ball out of the end zone, got it back immediately as defensive end Bjoern Werner saw the ball fall into his lap on a botched exchange from Driskel to Gillislee. After a 16-yard run by RB James Wilder, Jr. and two penalties on Florida, Manuel walked into the end zone to give his team a 17-13 lead with 8:30 left in the third quarter.
Two more 15-yard penalties on the Gators – a personal foul facemask and pass interference – allowed the Noles to take the ball down to the visitors’ 35-yard line. Hopkins again connected from long range, this time 53 yards out, to put FSU on top 20-13.
UF countered with another long offensive drive, gaining 64 yards on 13 plays, but was once again forced to settle for a field goal. Sturgis was true from 32 yards to cut his team’s deficit to four points with 13:27 to play.
Manuel committed his fourth (his team’s fifth) turnover of the contest as he fumbled the ball when freshman LB Antonio Morrison nailed him while he was wrapped up. Junior DE Dominique Easley recovered, and Gillislee charged 37 yards into the end zone on Florida’s first offensive play to put his team up 23-20.
Clint Trickett replaced Manuel on the next series while he was tended to on the sideline. After a three-and-out, Roberson returned the ensuing punt 50 yards to Florida State’s 32-yard line. A handful of plays later, Driskel hit redshirt sophomore wide receiver Quinton Dunbar on a 14-yard pass for a touchdown, giving Florida a 10-point lead with seven minutes left in the game.
A 16-yard sack of Manuel by Floyd on third down forced the Seminoles to turn the ball over on downs as they were charging down the field. In for a hobbled Gillislee, freshman RB Matt Jones took three carries for 59 yards and a touchdown to add to the Gators’ total.
Manuel drove the field to end the game as Florida played prevent defense, scrambling for a touchdown on the final play of the contest.
The Gators not only saw Gillislee eclipse 1,000 yards for the season, making him the first player since Ciatrick Fason (2004) to accomplish that task, they also had Sturgis set the team’s career field goals made record with 69.
Florida is now off until its bowl game but is all but guaranteed a BCS bid due to the three-four rule, which automatically inserts teams ranked in those spots into games. The Gators will hope for an opportunity to play for the national title but will need some help for that to occur.
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press