The No. 4 Florida Gators continued doing what they've been able to do all season which is find a way to win close games despite shooting themselves in the foot. In a game that felt like it had three separate halves, the Gators dominated the first and last portions on way to a 37-26 win over Florida State.
Gators running back Mike Gillislee ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns against the top-ranked rushing defense in the country.
Early in the fourth quarter after giving up 20 unanswered points to Florida State, and allowing all the momentum to swing back in favor of the Seminoles, quarterback E.J. Manuel was hit hard causing a fumble that was recovered by the Gators. The play turned out to be the turning point in the game.
The next play Gillislee took off for 37-yards and put the Gators back ahead 23-20. Everything FSU had done to climb back in the game and capture momentum went right out the window.
Having the Gators score on the next play allowed Manuel no time to be looked at on the FSU sideline leaving coach Jimbo Fisher no choice but to put backup quarterback Clint Trickett in the game.
After going three and out and being forced to punt, Florida got the ball with a chance to make it a two-score game, and that's exactly what it did. The punt was returned 50 yards by freshman Marcus Roberson, and five plays later quarterback Jeff Driskel connected wide receiver Quinton Dunbar for a touchdown.
For the second consecutive year Manuel had a very tough game against the Gators. Last year he threw for just 65 yards, and this year he threw three interceptions in addition to his costly fumble in the fourth quarter. It was the first time since his redshirt freshman season that Manuel was picked off three times in one game.
The first half could not have gone any worse for the Seminoles as Florida looked like the only team that had something to play for. The Gators came out of the gates playing like the more physical team and that dominance resembled the play for the majority of the game. FSU was fortunate to have even gotten back in the game.
One of the biggest question marks coming in to the game was how the Gators would move the ball offensively facing the No. 1 ranked defense in the nation. But UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease had a great game plan and the UF players executed.
The biggest key to their success was establishing the run game against the 'Noles. At half time, the Gators had 26 rushes for 116 yards and a 13-3 lead to show for it. It could have been much worse, though.
The Seminoles offense did not have it's best half of football to start the game picking up just three first downs in the first half. Luckily for FSU, two of them were just before the half and got the 'Noles on the board with a field goal, giving fans a glimmer of hope.
Driskell had arguably the best game of his career and found a way to make plays with his legs as well as his arm. But more important than any yardage he put up was his ability to protect the football.
As tough of a loss as it is, and as much emotion as this game is played with, Florida State has no time to waste putting it behind them as they play Georgia Tech next Saturday in the ACC Championship.
"Hats off to Florida, they did a great job in the ball game," Fisher said. "Our kids played hard, but we just didn't play well. We had plenty of opportunities in the game and didn't take advantage of them. We've got to have them better prepared and we have to take care of the ball better. It was rare, it wasn't fumbles it was interceptions; something we haven't done very much. We've got to recover; we have a lot to play for. We've got a conference championship next week. Back to business tomorrow."