Mark McLeod, ESPN Radio
Prior to the today’s kickoff against 10th-ranked Florida State, the Florida offense scored one touchdown or less in 14 of their past 16 quarters. A maligned Gators offense that was the focus of the conversation as to why Florida couldn’t beat FSU stunned the Seminoles.
Today, they stunned the nation too, helping the Gators to a 37-26 victory in Tallahassee.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. This was destined to be a low-scoring defensive battle that barring a Florida defensive or special teams’ score (or three) would be a third consecutive victory for the Seminoles. How was a Florida offense that ranks south of the top 100 going to score on a Florida State defense that led the nation in total defense (236.3 ypg), rushing defense (70.6 ypg), and ranked fifth in scoring defense (13 ppg)?
Win the battle on the line of scrimmage.
Florida whipped Florida State at the line of scrimmage demonstrating more muscle and grit when it counted most- the first and fourth quarters. And while decisions surrounding the Gators offense have been called into question for several weeks- they weren’t today. Will Muschamp and his Florida staff outcoached Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles.
What a change.
One year ago, Will Muschamp called out his Gators for being soft after losing to the Seminoles. The Florida offense basically handed the ‘Noles the victory by putting their defense against the wall after repeatedly turning the ball over to an opportunistic Florida State defense.
It’s a new day at Florida. This year, the Gators took advantage of five Florida State turnovers, which led to two touchdowns. Led by senior Mike Gillislee, Florida pounded the football down the Seminoles throats. The Gators ran 47 times for 244 yards and three touchdowns.
Interchange the opponent’s name and the ground game numbers and method to the Gators offensive madness precisely played out just as they have all season long.
Florida grounds it out and finds a way to win. They win despite numerous penalties that take them out of short yardage situations. They win despite failing to connect on an early deep route where the ball was overthrown.
This game was a bit unique too. We’ve seen the Gators wear opponents down all season long, but rarely have they kept the chains moving and dominated possession in the first quarter. Florida ran 26 of their 72 plays in the first quarter dominating the time of possession 11:21-3:39.
Florida (11-1) used big plays to gash the Seminoles in the fourth, running just 14 plays to score 24 points on three touchdowns and a 32-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal. Gillislee put Florida in the lead with a 37-yard sprint into the endzone. On their following possession, quarterback Jeff Driskel connected with Quinton Dunbar on a 14-yard touchdown pass to extent the Gators lead. Freshman Matt Jones put the nail in the ‘Noles coffin with a 32-yard touchdown run as Florida went up by 17 points.
Another surprise for Florida fans included an offense that converted 8 of 15 third down plays. The Gators have struggled recently to keep the chains moving. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease used a balanced approach that was well executed to keep the Seminoles on their heels.
How Did They Do It?
Preparation for this one actually began after Muschamp and the Gators were embarrassed a year ago by the Seminoles. He told us in his post-game press conference that the Florida practices would be very physical leading up to the Gator Bowl game against Ohio State.
We all know the story of Muschamp bringing in Strength & Conditioning Director Jeff Dillman to focus on building a much more physical Florida player. He did. I’ll argue that this was also won because of the strength of the Southeastern Conference.
Texas A&M and Tennessee in back-to-back weeks on the road. Enormous wins over LSU and South Carolina in “The Swamp”. A victory over a vastly improved Vanderbilt team and even a loss to Georgia helped prepared the Gators for a anybody. Yes, anybody. Week in and week out, Florida has faced future NFL players and future NFL stars.
You just don’t get that in the ACC on an every week basis. You don’t get that anywhere else either. I’m not bashing anybody. I’m telling the truth. The SEC has won six consecutive BCS National Championships because they’re better than everybody else. If you need further proof, ask an NFL scout.
This Florida team seemingly plays to the level of their competition- 11 of those times it’s been above that level. I’d love to see a game against Notre Dame. I’d like to see how they’d fare against Alabama. And if Will Muschamp can keep this staff intact, I believe it will be sooner rather than later.
Mark McLeod is co-host of “The Mark McLeod and Tim Casey Show” and covers Gators football, recruiting, and baseball for ESPN Radio (Gainesville/Ocala). Mark is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He’s been covering recruiting since the ‘90’s and Florida baseball since 2005. You can follow him on Twitter at @McLeodLive. E-mail Mark at