It’s not like the Florida Gators lacked for chances to put an end to Florida State’s winning streak. Chances were so plentiful that a win was all but gift-wrapped except that every time the Seminoles made a mistake the Gators seemed obliged to return the favor.
Instead of giving Will Muschamp a sendoff to remember, the Gators handed Florida State its 28th straight win. FSU was able to overcome four Jameis Winston interceptions because the Gators either went too predictable or shot themselves in the foot whenever they sniffed the end zone. Florida had seven scoring opportunities but came away with only one touchdown, four field goals and two missed field goal attempts.
“Early in the game when you create those opportunities in the red zone you have to score points … you can’t kick field goals,” Muschamp said after the Gators (6-5) lost to FSU, 24-19, in the last game of his coaching career at the University of Florida.
Florida’s defense intercepted Winston three times in the first quarter alone, but all the Gators had to show for the effort were field goals of 52, 39 and 42 yards by Austin Hardin. The first pick was by Jabari Gorman, who gave the Gators starting field position at the FSU 39. Three predictable plays later, Hardin came on to kick a career-long 52-yarder. An interception by Quincy Wilson on FSU’s next possession gave Florida the ball at the Seminole 48. Two first downs later, the Gators had a first down at the FSU 26, but after a 5-yard run by Kelvin Taylor, two incompletions brought on Hardin, who was good from 39.
After forcing a punt, the Gators put themselves in position to score again when a 42-yard Treon Harris to Brandon Powell completion gave them first down at the FSU 28. With a third and three at the FSU 21, the Gators went horizontal and the result was a Harris to Powell pass that lost five yards. Hardin came on to make it 9-0 on Hardin’s third field goal.
The Gators had another gift-wrapped opportunity on FSU’s next possession when Brian Poole intercepted Winston at the Seminole 9-yard line, but on first down, Harris rolled right and instead of an easy little toss and catch that would have given the Gators a second down inside the FSU five, Harris drilled the pass which was too hot for tight end Tevin Westbrook to handle. Terrance Smith grabbed the deflection and sprinted 94 yards the other way to put FSU on the scoreboard. That set off a 21-0 run by the Seminoles that put the Gators into the catch-up mode the rest of the way.
Trailing 21-9, the Gators caught one more break near the end of the first half when FSU punter Cason Beatty fumbled the ball against a heavy Florida rush. Taking over at the 15, the Gators needed only one play to get back into the game – a 15-yard touchdown pass from Harris to tight end Clay Burton, Florida’s only touchdown of the game.
Florida had a chance to take the lead on the first possession of the second half but a holding call at the FSU 13 derailed another drive that should have finished with a touchdown. Hardin’s fourth field goal of the game from 32 yards out cut the FSU lead to 21-19 but contributed once again to the mounting feeling that the Gators were going to leave too many points on the field to win the game.
On Florida’s next possession, a holding call against Tyler Moore negated a 16-yard scramble by Harris that would have given the Gators a first down inside the FSU 30.
Brian Poole’s second interception of the game gave the Gators a first down at the FSU 33, but what would have been a 13-yard completion from Harris to Demarcus Robinson was negated by a holding call against Latroy Pittman who complicated matters with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Rather than a chance to score a touchdown, the Gators ended up with a 52-yard field goal attempt by Hardin, who pulled it to the left.
On their first possession of the fourth quarter, a 41-yard Harris to Robinson pass gave the Gators a first down at the FSU 25, but a false start against Burton and three predictable plays later Hardin came on to try to give the Gators a lead with another field goal. This one went wide right.
FSU answered that miss with a 55-yard drive that ended with a 37-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo that padded the lead to 24-19 and took a game-winning field goal out of the equation for the Gators.
The Florida defense held FSU to 306 total yards and forced Winston into the worst game of his career. He was 12-24 throwing the ball for 125 yards and two touchdowns but he had the four picks and he fumbled the ball twice although he did recover both of them.
FSU outgained the Gators 306-282 but 10 penalties cost the Gators 105 yards and served as momentum killers.
The Seminoles advance to the ACC Championship Game next Saturday where they will face Georgia Tech, a 30-24 winner over Georgia Saturday. Florida’s regular season is over, but the Gators will play in a bowl game for interim head coach and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.
FLORIDA 3, FLORIDA STATE 0: A phantom roughing the punter call gave Florida State new life on its first possession, but on the first play after the 15-yard penalty, Jabari Gorman picked off Jameis Winston at the FSU 39. Three plays netted the Gators four yards. On fourth down, Florida sent in Jeff Driskel and lined up in an Emory and Henry-like formation but faced with a delay, Muschamp called time out, then sent in the field goal unit. Hardin responded with a career-best 52-yard field goal straight down the middle that would have been good from 60 yards with 12:37 left in the quarter.
FLORIDA 6, FLORIDA STATE 0: Florida’s defense came up with its second interception of Winston on FSU’s second possession. Under pressure, Winston overshot a receiver over the middle and Quincy Wilson came up with a spectacular diving interception at the FSU 48. Florida converted two third downs to move the ball to the FSU 26 where the drive bogged down. Treon Harris missed an open Demarcus Robinson for what would have been a 21-yard touchdown and then missed Kelvin Taylor on the sideline on third down. That brought on Hardin who made it 2-2 with a 39-yarder with 7:25 to go in the quarter to give the Gators a 6-0 lead.
FLORIDA 9, FLORIDA STATE 0: After giving up a 21-yard run by Dalvin Cook on the Seminoles’ third possession, the Florida defense once again put the clamps on Winston by turning Dante Fowler Jr. loose on the pass rush. Fowler nearly got a third down sack but it forced a throwaway by Winston and an FSU punt. The Gators went deep on first down with Harris connecting with Brandon Powell for 42 yards to the FSU 28, but the drive stalled and Hardin had to come on to kick his third field goal of the quarter for a 9-0 Florida lead with 2:15 to go.
FLORIDA STATE 7, FLORIDA 9: The Gators were in position to deliver a serious blow after Brian Poole came up with Florida’s third pick of the first quarter at the FSU nine. With first and goal, the Gators rolled Harris to the right where he flipped a pass to Tevin Westbrook at the six but the ball caromed off Westbrook’s hands and was picked off by Terrance Smith, who returned it 94 yards for a touchdown with 1:12 remaining in the quarter. Roberto Aguayo added the extra point to cut the FSU deficit to two.
FLORIDA STATE 14, FLORIDA 9: The Seminoles took the lead on a 10-yard Winston pass to Nick O’Leary with 8:12 left in the half to culminate a 12-play, 93-yard drive. FSU had big plays on the ground of 10 yards from Cook and 27 yards by Karlos Williams and a 29-yard Winston to Rashad Greene completion to set up the go-ahead scoring pass. Roberto Aguayo came on to add the extra point.
FLORIDA STATE 21, FLORIDA 9: FSU’s 8-play, 83-yard touchdown drive was all about Winston and Cook and compounded by a stupid 15-yard personal foul penalty against Gerald Willis. Winston ran two for 12 yards and completed both his passes, the first for 19 yards and the second for six and a touchdown to O’Leary, who beat Marcus Maye for the second time in the quarter with 2:14 left in the half. Cook started the drive with a 23-yard run and later added a 10-yard run that gave the Seminoles a first and goal at the Florida four. Aguayo’s extra point stretched FSU’s lead to 12 points.
FLORIDA 16, FLORIDA STATE 21: Just when it looked like the Gators were punch drunk against the ropes, Florida State’s special teams had a breakdown that got UF back into the game. Florida’s defense came up with a three-and-out to force a punt and when the Gators brought the rush right up the gut, Cason Beatty fumbled the ball away. Taking over on the FSU 15, it took one play to get into the end zone. Florida ran tight end Clay Burton on a wheel route out of the backfield, isolating him on FSU defensive end Mario Edwards. Harris took advantage of the mismatch, hitting Burton just inside the end zone for a touchdown with 53 seconds left in the half. Hardin came on to kick the extra point and give the Gators momentum for the second half.
FLORIDA 19, FLORIDA STATE 21: Andre Debose gave the Gators some momentum when he returned the second half kickoff 40 yards. From the 42, the Gators got the ball into the red zone, taking advantage of an 11-yard zone read by Harris and completions of nine yards to Demarcus Robinson and 16 to Latroy Pittman. But that’s where the drive stalled thanks to a holding call at the FSU 10. Instead of a go-ahead touchdown the Gators settled for the fourth field goal of the game by Hardin, this one from 32 yards out with 4:44 remaining in the quarter.
FLORIDA STATE 24, FLORIDA 19: After Hardin pushed an attempted go-ahead field goal wide right from 42 yards out, the Seminoles matched 55 yards to set up a 37-yard field goal by Aguayo that gave them a 5-point cushion. Runs of 15 and 17 yards by Cook and a 17-yard Winston to O’Leary pass were critical but the play that mattered most was a 9-yard scramble to the FSU 36 by Winston on third and eight.