Gators bowl eligible with 52-3 win over EKU

The memories of their last game in The Swamp will be sweet for Florida’s 22 seniors and for outgoing head football coach Will Muschamp. Both the seniors and Muschamp started their Florida careers in The Swamp with a win and they’ll leave the iconic stadium with the glow of a 52-3 win over Eastern Kentucky.

Given the circumstances – Muschamp was given the chance to step down after next week’s game with Florida State after last week’s overtime loss to South Carolina – it was a very good performance by the Gators (6-4, 4-4 SEC), who used the win to become bowl eligible. The Gators played loose and without any emotional hangover from Muschamp’s departure and without a hint of overconfidence even though the visiting Colonels are from the Division IAA Ohio Valley Conference. Defensively, the Gators held the Colonels to 142 total yards and a first quarter field goal. Over on the offensive side of the ball, the Colonels stacked the box and dared the Gators to throw which resulted in the most efficient passing game since the season opener. The Gators threw for 326 yards and five touchdowns, two by Treon Harris and three by Jeff Driskel.

Driskel came on in relief of Harris, who suffered a contusion on his shin in the second quarter. Harris completed 4-12 passes for 162 yards with touchdown passes to Quinton Dunbar and Demarcus Robinson. Driskel ran for a touchdown and went 9-11 throwing the ball for 164 yards with touchdown passes to Robinson, Dunbar and Michael McNeely.

The injury to Harris wasn’t serious, according to Muschamp.

“He had a contusion on lower part of his knee … there’s no ligament, no cartilage no issues,” Muschamp said in his post game remarks. Muschamp indicated that Harris will be the starting quarterback next Saturday when the Gators finish the regular season at Florida State.

The Gators built a 17-3 first quarter lead that they extended to 31-3 at the half thanks to a big special teams play by Andre Debose and Eastern Kentucky’s determination to gamble with special teams. Debose set up Florida’s first score of the game, a 48-yard Austin Hardin field goal, with a 39-yard punt return on Eastern Kentucky’s first possession of the game. When the Colonels tried a fake punt on their second possession, they came up short, giving the Gators the ball on the EKU 23. Florida needed some special teams trickery of its own, with Driskel running for a first down on a fake field goal. That set up a 13-yard touchdown run by Kelvin Taylor.

After the Colonels got their only score of the game, Debose gave the Gators decent starting field position with a 30-yard kickoff return. Harris completed a 70-yard bomb to Dunbar to give the Gators a 17-3 lead. Prior to the Debose return, the Colonels tried an onside kick they apparently recovered only to be flagged for illegal procedure because one of their players blocked one of the Gators before the ball had traveled 10 yards.

The Colonels had a legitimate scoring threat going early in the second quarter after a high snap sailed through the hands of Harris. LaJuan Smith scooped up the ball at the Florida 26 and was on his way to a touchdown when Matt Jones hustled to run him down at the UF eight. When the Florida defense sent the Colonels three yards in the wrong direction, they tried a fake field goal on fourth down, but once again Florida was ready for the trickery.

Later in the second quarter, Florida’s defense again flexed its muscles. Following a fumble caused by Caleb Brantley and recovered by Gerald Willis, Harris threw a 19-yard scoring pass to Robinson in the west corner of the north end zone to give the Gators a 24-3 lead.

Harris first hurt his knee late in the second quarter after hooking up with Robinson for 54 yards to give the Gators the ball at the EKU 16. When Harris left the game, Driskel came on to complete an 8-yard pass to Dunbar and then run two straight plays into the end zone for Florida’s final score of the half.

Harris played a couple of series in the third quarter, but Driskel took over to get the Gators’ only score of the quarter, a 38-yard touchdown pass to Robinson, who got behind the safeties on a post pattern. Driskel added touchdown passes of 29 yards to Dunbar and 28 yards to senior Michael McNeely to finish off a turnover-free, efficient game. Dunbar’s second scoring catch marked the first time in his Florida career that he caught two touchdown passes in a game, a fitting end to a senior’s career.

The Gators outgained the Colonels, 430-142, holding the visitors to 79 rushing yards and only 63 through the air. Eastern Kentucky stacked the box with eight to take away Florida’s running game but that left them vulnerable to the air attack. While the Gators managed only 104 rushing yards in 38 attempts, they threw for 326 and five touchdowns without an interception, averaging an outstanding 13.8 yards per pass attempt.


FLORIDA 3, EASTERN KENTUCKY 0: Florida’s defense produced a 3-and-out on Eastern Kentucky’s first possession, which gave Debose a chance to show off his return skills on his last game in The Swamp. Taking a punt at the Florida 34, Debose broke right to the sideline, found an opening and wasn’t caught until he hit the Eastern Kentucky 27. From there, the Gators went backward and had to settle for a 48-yard Hardin field goal with 12:08 remaining in the quarter.

FLORIDA 10, EASTERN KENTUCKY 0: This drive was all about special teams fakes. Florida got the ball at the Eastern Kentucky 23 when the Colonels elected to fake a punt on their second possession only to come up a yard short. Florida faked a field goal on fourth down from the EKU 14 with Driskel getting the first down by a couple of inches. Two plays later, Taylor took a handoff straight up the gut, saw open space to the outside and broke right to sprint into the end zone untouched for a 13-yard scoring run. Hardin’s extra point made it 10-0 with 8:35 remaining in the quarter.

EASTERN KENTUCKY 3, FLORIDA 10: The Colonels overcame a couple of near disasters – a 14-yard loss on a lateral and a snap that hit a motion man in the helmet – to control the ball for 13 plays and 5:16 to get on the scoreboard just before the end of the first quarter. Three key pass completions on third down kept the drive alive. Bennie Coney completed passes of 12 and 18 yards to Jeff Glover and an 8-yarder to Dy’Shawn Mobley. When the drive stalled Andrew Lloyd came on to kick a 51-yard field goal with 55 seconds remaining in the quarter.

FLORIDA 17, EASTERN KENTUCKY 3: The Gators needed one play to answer the EKU field goal. Following a 30-yard kickoff return by Debose, Harris went deep for Dunbar, who had to wait for the ball at the EKU 30. Dunbar made the catch, shed a tackle at the 23 and then waltzed into the end zone with 33 seconds remaining in the quarter. Hardin came on to add the extra point.


FLORIDA 24, EASTERN KENTUCKY 3: The Florida defense came through with a turnover that led to Florida’s third touchdown of the game. Brantley stripped the ball from Mobley and Willis came up with the fumble at the Eastern Kentucky 19. After an incompletion in the west corner of the north end zone, Harris came back with the same play to connect with Robinson for a touchdown with 8:29 to go in the half. Hardin came on to kick the extra point and stretch the lead to 21 points.

FLORIDA 31, EASTERN KENTUCKY 3: Florida used a 54-yard Harris to Robinson completion to get to the EKU 16, but two plays later Harris left the game injured. That brought on Driskel in relief. He completed a third down pass for eight yards to Dunbar, then carried the ball on consecutive plays for the touchdown from one yard out with 4:40 to go in the half. Hardin completed the drive with the extra point.


FLORIDA 38, EASTERN KENTUCKY 3: Driskel’s first touchdown pass since the LSU game on October 11 completed a 4-play, 55-yard scoring drive in the third quarter. On successive plays, Driskel completed a 16-yard pass to Latroy Pittman and then a 38-yard scoring pass to Robinson, who caught the ball over his shoulder and almost walked into the end zone with 6:10 left in the quarter. Hardin’s extra point gave the Gators a 5-touchdown lead.


FLORIDA 45, EASTERN KENTUCKY 3: Driskel threw his second touchdown pass of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter when he found Dunbar in the end zone with a 29-yard strike with 14:53 remaining in the game. It was the first time Driskel had thrown two touchdown passes in a game since September 13 when he threw three in Florida’s 3-overtime win over Kentucky. On the 6-play, 65-yard scoring drive that took 2:18 off the clock, Driskel was 3-4 throwing the ball for 65 yards.

FLORIDA 52, EASTERN KENTUCKY 3: Walk-on Michael McNeely’s senior day was made complete by two catches on Florida’s 6-play, 67-yard scoring drive. McNeely, who scored a touchdown on a fake field goal against Georgia, caught an 8-yard pass from Driskel, the first catch of his career, and that was topped off by a 28-yard catch of another Driskel pass for a touchdown with 6:18 to go in the game. Frankie Velez came on to kick the extra point.

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