In the span of seven days, the Florida Gators went from near perfect to walking on stumps because they shot themselves in the feet so many times. Fortunately for the Gators, aesthetics don’t count in the standings. The Gators’ pretty win over New Mexico State counts just the same as Saturday night’s ugly, 31-24, win over East Carolina, decided with 12 seconds to go when ECU quarterback Blake Kemp fumbled as he was hit by Joey Ivie and Alex McCalister scooped up the ball to preserve the victory.
You could say this was two steps forward and one step backward. Two steps forward for coming away with a win against a team that was a significant step up in competition from last week’s sacrificial lamb, New Mexico State. One step backward because the Gators had to hang on for dear life in a game they should have been leading by two or three touchdowns because of two blown red zone scoring opportunities that resulted in missed field goals form chip shot range, two critical turnovers and 12 penalties for 105 yards in losses.
“There isn’t a lot positive to talk about other than we won a ball game,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said in his post game remarks, adding, “It was horrible … it was inexcusable.”
Unlike last week when the Florida offense scored at will, this week the final margin of seven points was provided by the defense, a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown by corner Jalen Tabor late with 3:32 to go in the third quarter.
Florida seemed to have the game in control in the fourth quarter when Treon Harris drove the Gators on a 75-yard scoring drive, setting up Kelvin Taylor’s 7-yard touchdown with 6:57 left in the game with a clutch 22-yard scramble that negated an untimely holding penalty. On the drive, Harris hit DeAndre Goolsby for a 28-yard gain and Demarcus Robinson for 11 yards. The Gators converted two third downs and a fourth down on the drive.
A 33-17 lead should have been enough but the defense got picked apart by ECU quarterback Blake Kemp, who went 7-10 on a 66-yard scoring drive. There was only one big play – a 28-yard Kemp to Isaiah Jones completion – and the rest were nickel and dime throws but they were effective.
Following the TD, ECU elected to kick deep rather than onside. The Pirates forced a 3-and-out and after Florida’s punt, took over on their own 30 with less than two minutes to go. Kemp went 5-8, driving the Pirates to the Florida 13 where they faced second and 10 with 21 seconds remaining. On the drive Kemp completed three passes to tight end Bryce Williams for 36 yards. Williams, who had narrowed the Florida lead to 31-24 when he caught a TD pass on ECU’s previous drive, was the likely target when the Pirates came to the line of scrimmage but Florida got pressure with Ivie and as Kemp tried to throw the ball, it slipped out of his hands backwards. McAlister scooped the ball up at the 30 and ran it back to the 41 to end ECU’s threat.
The Gators finished with 373 yards of offense, 205 through the air and 168 on the ground. Will Grier was 10-17 for 151 yards and two touchdowns while Harris went 5-8 for 54. Taylor led Florida’s rushing attack with 55 yards on 16 carries. ECU wound up with -13 yards rushing but the Pirates threw on a Gator secondary that played without Vernon Hargreaves III for 346 yards as Kemp completed 34-54 passes, good for three touchdowns.
The Gators improved to 2-0. They begin SEC play next week in Lexington against Kentucky (2-0), a 26-22 winner over South Carolina.
ECU 7, FLORIDA O; 11:26
The Gators trailed for the first time this season when East Carolina took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in eight plays, scoring on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Blake Kemp to Davon Grayson on a third and five. On the drive, Kemp was 5-5 for 65 yards. The Pirates were 2-2 on their third down conversions.
FLORIDA 3, ECU 7; 4:08
Florida got on the scoreboard with 4:08 remaining in the first quarter when Austin Hardin drilled his third field goal of the season from 37 yards out to finish off an 8-play drive. A 26-yard Will Grier to Brandon Powell pass got the Gators deep into ECU territory and a 15-yard pass interference call against the Pirates gave UF the ball at the three. An apparent third down touchdown pass from Grier to Demarcus Robinson was wiped off because of a dubious offensive pass interference call on Jake McGee. On the repeat of third down, Grier avoided the blitz but barely made it back to the line of scrimmage, bringing on Hardin.
FLORIDA 10, ECU 7; 0:49
After the UF defense delivered its second straight 3-and-out, Grier and DeAndre Goolsby connected twice on a 4-play, 74-yard drive that put the Gators in the lead at 10-7. Grier and Goolsby connected for 34 yards on the drive’s first play and once again for 32 for the scoring play with 42 seconds remaining in the quarter. Grier was 4-5 for 98 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter.
ECU 14, FLORIDA 10; 10:43
East Carolina got great field position at the UF 27 when Grier’s pass to Alvin Bailey bounced into the air and was picked off by Bobby Fulp. It took only one play to convert the miscue into a touchdown. Kemp found a wide open Isaiah Jones, whose stutter step froze Marcus Maye, at the UF 10 and he ran untouched into the end zone with 10:43 remaining to give the Pirates the lead. Davis Plowman added the extra point to put the Gators behind, 14-10.
FLORIDA 17, ECU 14; 7:11
The Gators had an answer for the ECU touchdown, starting with Brandon Powell’s 39-yard kickoff return that gave UF excellent field position at the 43. From there it was the Will Grier-Demarcus Robinson show as the two hooked up four times for 43 yards including a 5-yard pass for the go-ahead touchdown with 7:11 left in the third quarter. Robinson had catches of 14, 17 and 7 yards in addition to the scoring catch on the drive.
FLORIDA 24 ECU 14; 3:32
Florida’s first defensive touchdown of the season came with 3:32 left in the third quarter when Jalen Tabor jumped a pass on the east sideline and returned the pick 39 yards for the score that gave the Gators a 10-point cushion.
ECU 17, FLORIDA 24; 12:25
Treon Harris came back at quarterback on Florida’s first fourth quarter possession and after one first down, there was a fumble on the handoff exchange with Mark Herndon. ECU’s Joe Alley recovered at the UF 34 and from there, the Pirates moved to the UF 13 where they settled for a 30-yard field goal by Davis Plowman with 12:25 remaining in the game.
FLORIDA 31, ECU 17; 6:57
The Gators extended their lead to two touchdowns as Harris led the Gators on an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive to answer the ECU field goal. Harris completed passes of 28 yards to Goolsby and 11 yards to Robinson plus contributed a 22-yard scramble that gave the Gators a first down at the ECU seven. The touchdown came on a 7-yard run by Kelvin Taylor with 6:57 to go.
ECU 24, FLORIDA 31; 3:04
There was no quit in the Pirates, who threw the ball 10 straight plays as they moved down the field 66 yards for a touchdown to cut the Florida lead to seven. Kemp completed seven passes to five different receivers on the drive. The big play on the drive was a 28-yard pass to Isaiah Jones. The touchdown came on a 7-yard Kemp to Bryce Williams pass with 3:04 to go.