Everything went wrong for the Florida Gators (7-4) Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL, as the No. 22 Florida State Seminoles (9-3) snapped a six-game losing streak to their bitter in-state rivals by cruising to a dominant 31-7 victory.
Down 7-3 going into the second quarter, Florida State put together a 21-point effort before halftime by taking advantage of a number of Florida miscues. The Seminoles would add a touchdown in the second half and shut the Gators out for the final three quarters of the game, earning their biggest win in the series since 1988 (52-17).
After a phantom facemask penalty on senior safety Ahmad Black helped FSU earn a field goal on their first possession, redshirt freshman wide receiver Andre Debose returned the ensuing kickoff for 62 yards. UF got on the board quickly putting together a five-play, 32-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 20-yard pass from redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley to freshman WR Robert Clark.
A fumble by redshirt freshman tight end Jordan Reed (in at QB) ended what appeared to be a promising drive for Florida in the middle of the first quarter, and a second fumble by redshirt junior WR Chris Rainey on the Gators’ next possession at their own 14 gave Florida State the ball back in scoring position. Two plays later QB Christian Ponder tossed a quick pass to WR Lonnie Pryor to give the Seminoles a 10-7 lead that they would never look back from.
Faced with a three-and-out at their own 36 yard line on their next possession, UF attempted a fake punt on 4th and 5; unfortunately senior punter/kicker Chas Henry was stopped a yard short for the team’s first failed fake punt under head coach Urban Meyer. On the very next play, Ponder completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to WR Rodney Smith who beat redshirt junior cornerback Moses Jenkins for a wide-open score to put FSU up 17-7.
The Seminoles would have to work a bit harder for their final points of the quarter, putting together a 12-play, 73-yard drive that concluded with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ponder to WR Taiwan Easternling. The Gators appeared to bounce back quickly with 2:47 left on the clock as Reed and Rainey ran the ball for a combined 60 yards to just enter the red zone. However, after a Florida State timeout to slow things down, Brantley was brought in for Reed on 2nd and 8 and subsequently threw an interception.
FSU would put the game away for good on their first possession of the third quarter, piecing together a 10-play, 71-yard touchdown drive; Ponder tossed his third score of the day with a 29-yard pass to WR Willie Haulstead.
In addition to their numerous miscues, Florida appeared undisciplined and inept by committing 11 penalties for 79 yards (most courtesy of the offensive line). The Gators outgained the Seminoles 212-112 on the ground, but UF was no match for a FSU passing attack that almost quadrupled their effort (221-64).
Brantley, who mostly saw work on obvious passing downs until Reed left the game with a concussion in the second half, finished 6-of-12 for 52 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Reed and Rainey rushed for 74 and 73 yards, respectively, and junior running back Jeff Demps took nine carries for 44 yards. Ponder finished 16-of-24 for 221 yards with three touchdowns, and Smith ended up as his leading receiver with four receptions for 79 yards and a score.
Saturday’s loss was just Meyer’s second rivalry game defeat during his tenure at Florida (Georgia, 2007) and his first to Florida State.
Photo Credit: Steve Cannon/Associated Press