It was the perfect start for the Florida defense. The Gators won the toss and Will Muschamp deferred the ball until the second half, trusting his defense to get a stop. They got one, and then a rough the punter call put them back on the field. On the next snap, a Jabari Gorman gave the Gators the ball in better field position after an interception. It ended in a field goal.
Three plays into the next Florida State drive, it was freshman Quincy Wilson that picked off the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. The Seminoles punted on their next drive and turned that into another field goal for Florida after a 5-play, 44-yard drive.
The next Florida State drive ended when Brian Poole stepped in front of a short throw and gave the Gators their best field position of the night, starting a drive at the Florida State 4-yard line.
That’s when disaster struck. Holding a 9-0 lead, quarterback Treon Harris rolled to his right and delivered a pass slightly behind tight end Tevin Westbrook but still catchable. It bounced off his body and into the arms of Florida State linebacker Terrance Smith, who went 94 yards for a touchdown.
The Florida lead looked destined to become 16-0, but instead, the Gators were staring at only a 9-7 lead after dominating the first 13:48 of the play.
"We had our opportunities, early in the game especially,” Will Muschamp said. “We had our opportunities and we didn't get it done."
It was the second key drop of the year for Westbrook, who couldn’t catch a potential game-winning touchdown against LSU. The Gators lost that game, but a win might have cooled the hot seat on Muschamp before he was fired.
Coaches and players all backed Westbrook, a player recruited to Florida as a defensive lineman that has moved to tight end, after the LSU game. Following Saturday’s loss in Tallahassee, Muschamp wasn’t as kind.
"He's had some opportunities to make some catches,” Muschamp said. “In that situation, catch the ball. That's really the message: catch the ball. You can argue about it's thrown in traffic or this, that and the other. We put you on scholarship at Florida. Catch it."
The drop was just the tip of the iceberg for the offensive issues. The Gators settled for the three field goals before the ball bounced off Westbrook’s hands, and it might not have been as important if Florida could’ve punched one of its first three drives into the end zone instead of setting for three points.
Muschamp said the team isn’t far enough along in the passing game to have consistent success in those situations.
"You've got to get seven points in those situations, especially against a team like that, especially as explosive as they are," Muschamp said.
Kicker Austin Hardin hit his first four field goals, all coming from between 32-52 yards. He didn’t have a game in his career with more than one made field goal before Saturday, but the first four went through for the redshirt sophomore. Two of them were from 40+ yards, a distance Hardin was 0-6 in last season.
The last two didn’t go through, crushing momentum Florida created on drives. The first one came when Poole made an impressive interception -- the fourth of the day for Winston -- and returned it to the Florida State 33-yard line. Hardin missed a 52-yard field goal wide right to end it with no points. Florida had just six points off four Winston turnovers.
The next drive started with a 41-yard completion to Demarcus Robinson on a rare completed deep ball, but it ended without points as Hardin missed a 42-yarder wide right.
It was missed opportunity after missed opportunity for the Florida offense, and that’s how Florida State became the first team in FBS to throw 4+ interceptions and win the game.
“We didn't get it done,” Muschamp said. “It falls on my shoulders, and that's why they're going to be looking for a coach."