So explain Florida’s 38-10 win over 3rd-ranked Ole Miss at The Swamp Saturday night. This was not a case of Ole Miss (4-1, 2-1 SEC) underestimating the 25th-ranked Gators and don’t dare call it a fluke. This is what happens when you combined good coaching, aggressive play calling and a defense that responds to a challenge. This is the same team that college football experts said would be fortunate to win six games this season. Well, the Gators are 5-0, 3-0 in the SEC, and instead of helping to bring up the rear in the SEC East, they’re the only team in the division with an unbeaten record.
A week ago, Florida had to come back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to knock off Tennessee, 28-27. The victory celebration for that one couldn’t begin until a 55-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the game slid wide right, missing by inches.
This week, Florida fans didn’t have to wait until the last second to exhale. Florida dominated in every phase of the game and asserted its dominance early on. In the first half, it was an offensive show. In the second half, the defense spent the last two quarters flexing its muscles.
The Gators jumped out to a 13-0 first quarter lead and stretched it to 25-0 at the half. The second half was the blueprint of a near perfect defensive game plan as the Gators held the Ole Miss offense, averaging 54.5 points per game, out of the end zone until the Rebels pushed across a meaningless touchdown with 4:04 remaining.
“That was a good football team we beat,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “That was a really good football team we beat. Don’t take anything away from them.”
Heroes were many.
Quarterback Will Grier, who battled a case of the flu and was questionable until the game began, was razor sharp, hitting 24-29 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns. Demarcus Robinson, somewhat of an enigma through the first four games of the year, came alive, catching 8 passes for 98 yards, scoring a touchdown on a 36-yard pass from Grier to put the Gators on the scoreboard.
The defense forced four turnovers that were turned into 19 points. Florida’s pass rush got to Chad Kelly for four sacks for 40 yards in losses. Kelly was 26-40 for 259 yards, an average of just 6.4 per pass attempt. Coming into the game, Kelly was averaging 9.8 per attempt. The Rebels were averaging 543.5 yards per game including 199 on the ground prior to Saturday night, but the Rebels were held to 328 total yards and only 69 on the ground.
The Gators take their unbeaten record on the road next week to Missouri, which knocked off South Carolina, 24-10, Saturday. Ole Miss will play host to New Mexico State.
FLORIDA 7, OLE MISS 0; 9:09
On their second possession of the game, Will Grier finished off a 5-play, 61-yard drive with a 36-yard touchdown with pass to Demarcus Robinson. Grier and Robinson connected three times on the drive, the first for 14 yards and the second for 4 to convert a third-and-3 to the Ole Miss 36. On the next play, with Robert Nkemdiche in his face, Grier threw off his back foot and had enough arm strength to get the ball to Robinson who ran a post pattern straight down the middle of the field for the touchdown. Jorge Powell came on to kick the extra point for a 7-0 Florida lead with 9:09 remaining in the first quarter.
FLORIDA 13, OLE MISS 0; 6:48
On their second play after the UF kickoff, the Rebels turned the ball over on a bad exchange from quarterback Chad Kelly to tailback Jaylen Walton. When the ball popped into the air, Bryan Cox Jr. picked it off and rumbled down to the Ole Miss 24. It took the Gators five plays to get into the end zone. There was a key third down conversion when Grier hooked up with Jake McGee for 4 yards for a first down to the Ole Miss 13. Following an 11-yard burst off right tackle by Kelvin Taylor, Grier froze the Rebels with a play fake to Taylor and completed an easy 2-yard touchdown pass to McGee in the middle of the end zone. Powell’s extra point attempt hit the upright.
FLORIDA 19, OLE MISS 0; 6:53
The Gators extended their lead to 19-0 on a 77-yard touchdown pass from Grier to Brandon Powell. Powell caught the ball over the middle on a crossing pattern, split a couple of Ole Miss defenders and then picked up a block from Ahmad Fullwood that sprung him loose down the sideline for Florida’s longest touchdown play of the season. The Gators went for the 2-point conversion but Grier’s pass sailed incomplete.
FLORIDA 25, OLE MISS 0; 0:20
This 13-play, 91-yard scoring drive was all about Grier, who went 8-8 for 69 yards, finishing things off with his fourth TD pass of the game, a 15-yarder to Antonio Callaway, who picked up a key block from Taylor at the Ole Miss 3 before skipping into the end zone. Taylor contributed five carries for 25 yards and two catches for another 15 on the drive as the Gators methodically moved the ball down the field and wore down the Ole Miss defense. Florida once again went for two, but Treon Harris was stopped well short of the goal line.
FIRST HALF STATS: The Gators outgained Ole Miss 296-151. Grier was 17-20 for 229 yards and 4 TDs in the first half with Robinson catching 6 passes for 94. Taylor was 15-73 rushing to go with 2-15 receiving. Ole Miss managed 129 passing yards and 22 on the ground. Florida’s defense got to Kelly for 3 sacks totaling 29 yards in losses.
OLE MISS 3, FLORIDA 25; 5:25
It took Ole Miss 15 plays to drive to the Florida 1 but on the next three plays the Rebels went backwards and had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Gary Wunderlich. The drive took 9:35 off the clock as the Florida defense allowed the Rebels to dink and dunk, but wouldn’t give up anything downfield. The two longest plays on the drive were a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty against the UF defense and an 11-yard Kelly to Markell Pack pass on the second play of the possession.
FLORIDA 28, OLE MISS 3; 12:46
Ole Miss lost its second fumble of the game on a Kelly scramble, giving the Gators the ball at midfield with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter. It took the Gators six plays to get into the red zone where they settled for a 31-yard field goal from Jorge Powell with 12:46 remaining in the game to extend the lead to 28-3.
FLORIDA 31, OLE MISS 3; 6:39
Vernon Hargreaves III set up a 22-yard field goal by Jorge Powell when he intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it 36 yards to the Ole Miss 5. Although the Gators couldn’t jam it into the end zone for what would have been a pile it on touchdown, Jorge Powell came on to kick his second field goal with 6:39 to go in the game.
FLORIDA 38, OLE MISS 3; 6:20
It only took 19 seconds to get on the scoreboard again and once again, the score was courtesy of the defense. On Ole Miss’ first offensive play, Alex McCalister got to Kelly, forcing the ball to pop into the air and into the waiting hands of freshman CeCe Jefferson, who headed straight for the goal line only to be stopped a foot away. Jordan Cronkrite provided an exclamation point when he took a short pitch into the end zone. Powell added the extra point, sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy.
OLE MISS 10, FLORIDA 38; 4:04
Ole Miss finally scored a touchdown on a 7-play, 75-yard drive in garbage time. Kelly was 5-6 passing on the drive, getting the touchdown on a 7-yard screen pass to Markell Pack with 4:04 to go. Wunderlich added the extra point.