The 2013 season ended with a whimper for the Florida Gators (4-8), which lost for the third time in the last four years to the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles (12-0), dropping Saturday’s contest 37-7 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
The Seminoles continued on their path toward a national title while the Gators finished a season below .500 for the first time since 1979. UF, which ended the year on a seven-game losing streak, also failed to advance to a bowl game for the first time in 23 tries.
Heisman candidate and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston looked every bit the part on Saturday, completing 19-of-31 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. All three of those touchdown passes went to Seminoles wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who tallied 212 yards on eight receptions.
Florida got out of the first quarter trailing just 3-0 thanks to a superb defensive effort.
Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy intercepted Winston on a pass down to UF’s 13-yard line, but the Gators were unable to convert the ensuing possession into points despite moving down to FSU’s 33 on a 50-yard rush by senior WR Trey Burton. Redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin missed a 49-yard field goal attempt wide right.
Burton, who head coach Will Muschamp said at halftime would have taken about 35 snaps at quarterback on Saturday, did not return to the game with a shoulder injury.
Taking over from its own 34, the Seminoles drove 35 yards in eight plays but got held up when redshirt junior linebacker Neiron Ball sacked Winston on 3rd-and-5. Florida State got on the board, however, via a 49-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo.
Starting from their own four-yard line with 10:15 left in the first half, Florida State moved the ball but faced a 3rd-and-26 at its own 15 following an 11-yard sack and delay of game penalty. Winston completed a 27-yard pass to WR Kenny Shaw to pick up the first down. He picked up another big first down two plays later by completing a 23-yard pass to WR Kelvin Benjamin on 2nd-and-20 and found the end zone just one down after that on a 45-yard strike to Benjamin.
FSU got one more chance with 2:07 remaining before the break and made the most of it. Winston completed six of seven pass attempts as part of a seven-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard Benjamin touchdown. Benjamin actually committed offensive pass interference on the play – pulling Purifoy down by his jersey before getting open – but the referees did not call the penalty.
The Seminoles tacked on three more points early in the second half, kicking a 40-yard field goal a couple plays after forcing Gators redshirt freshman QB Skyler Mornhiwneg to cough up the ball for a fumble. On its next possession, Florida State moved 84 yards in five plays thanks to a 56-yard pitch-and-catch from Winston to Benjamin. The drive ended with running back Devonta Freeman finding the end zone from 11 yards out.
Florida had a second chance to score spanning the third and fourth quarters and took advantage of the opportunity. Mornhinweg led the Gators down the field on a season-long 14-play drive that lasted 8:29. UF picked up 83 total yards on the trip, which ended with a five-yard pass from Mornhinweg to junior fullback Hunter Joyer for a touchdown.
FSU responded immediately as Winston found Benjamin twice on another touchdown-scoring drive. He first hit Benjamin for 32 yards and then went to him again from four yards out for their third hook-up of the game for a score. The Seminoles also added a field goal late in the fourth quarter.
With the season now in the books, Florida will look to make some major staff changes before the start of the 2014 campaign, which kicks off on Aug. 30 against Idaho.