You can make a million excuses and none of them adequately explain that 8th-ranked Florida needed overtime to escape with a 20-14 win over Florida Atlantic Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. About the only good thing that came out of this unexpected nail-biter was the Gators (10-1, 7-1 SEC) got to 10 wins, making Jim McElwain the first coach in Florida football history to get to 10 wins in his first year on the job.
Beyond that this was a game of one frustration after another. Now, whether this was a case that Florida was overconfident or ill prepared doesn’t really matter. Whatever it was, the Gators made the 2-9 Owls highly competitive in a game Florida should have won by 4-5 touchdowns.
Don’t take anything away from FAU’s effort. The Owls played as hard as they could, perhaps a bit over their heads, but even with FAU playing at its very best the Gators should have won this game comfortably, but instead it took overtime to win it.
“They took it to us and they deserved to win,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said as he left the field.
The Gators got the win in overtime on a 13-yard throwback pass from Treon Harris to Jake McGee, but leave it to the Gators to make it suspenseful. Austin Hardin, who had plunked the goal post with one field goal attempt and sent a chipshot 34-yarder wide right earlier, had his extra point blocked, meaning a TD and an extra point would have won the game for the Owls.
On FAU’s overtime possession, the Owls converted a third down for a first-and-goal at the UF 9, but after CeCe Jefferson and Bryan Cox Jr. blew up a running play, Jacquez Johnson threw three straight incompletions. Against an all-out blitz on fourth down, Johnson’s pass skimmed off the fingers of Jensen Stoshak in the end zone, which gave the Gators the win.
Florida wasted its only scoring threat in a scoreless first half. Antonio Callaway flipped the field with a 52-yard punt return that gave UF a first down at the FAU 18, but three offensive plays netted exactly 3 yards and Hardin came on to try a 33-yard field goal that hit the right upright and bounced harmlessly away with 10:18 left in the half.
FAU also had one scoring threat in the second quarter but a holding penalty stalled the drive and forced a 46-yard field goal attempt by Greg Joseph, who missed to the right with 5:47 to go in the half.
The Florida defense got a 3-and-out on FAU’s first possession of the third quarter but a special teams mistake cost the Gators another scoring opportunity. Callaway fielded a punt at the UF 20 and ran it back 60 yards only to see the return called back for an illegal block in the back.
On FAU’s second possession, the Florida defense came through with a big play to set up the game’s first touchdown. Antonio Morrison sacked Jason Driskel and forced a fumble that Taven Bryan picked up at midfield and returned 48 yards to the FAU 2 where it took two plays for Kelvin Taylor to punch it in for the TD with 9:44 left in the quarter. Hardin’s extra point made it 7-0.
Florida stretched the lead to 14-0 when Harris and Callaway connected on a 53-yard touchdown pass on Florida’s next possession but the Owls had answers. A 9-play, 75-yard drive finished when Johnson and Kalib Woods connected for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 2:06 left in the quarter.
The Gators had a chance to extend the lead to 17-0 in the fourth quarter after Jalen Tabor came up with an interception at the FAU 20, but three very predictable Florida plays gained only 6 yards and forced Hardin to come on to try a 34-yard field goal, which sailed wide right with 10:33 left in the game.
The FAU defense got the game-tying touchdown when Tre Hendrickson sacked Harris at the UF 9 and Ocie Rose recovered the ball in the end zone with 8:03 left. When Joseph added the extra point the Gators were in a fight for their lives.
Florida was outgained in the game, 299-252. The Gators turned the ball over twice, gave up 5 sacks for -32 yards, missed two field goals and converted only 2-13 on third down.
Harris was 8-17 passing for 122 yards. Taylor ran for 98 yards on 25 carries.
FLORIDA 7, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 0; 9:44
Florida finally got on the scoreboard in the third quarter thanks to a big defensive play. FAU was driving with a first down at the UF 41 when Antonio Morrison sacked freshman QB Jason Driskel, forcing a fumble that Taven Bryan scooped up and returned to the FAU 2. It took two plays for Kelvin Taylor to power in from the left side, his sixth straight game with a TD, with 9:44 remaining. Austin Hardin kicked the extra point to make it 7-0.
FLORIDA 14, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 0; 5:34
The explosive play the Gators had been looking for the whole game came on Florida’s next possession when Treon Harris went deep to Antonio Callaway for a 53-yard touchdown pass to complete a 4-play, 91-yard drive with 5:34 remaining in the quarter. A pass interference call against the Owls on first down got the Gators out of the shadows of their own goal line. A Harris-to-Jordan Cronkrite pass on a wheel route covered 16 yards to set up the TDP.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC 7, FLORIDA 14; 2:06
FAU answered the Callaway touchdown with a 9-play, 75-yard drive that got early momentum on the second play when Jaquez Johnson hit Jenson Stoshak for a 28-yard gain to the Florida 43. Greg Howell ran for 31 yards on the next three plays to set up the Johnson-to-Kalib Woods touchdown on a third-and-goal at the 10. Greg Joseph’s extra point cut the Florida lead in half.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC 14, FLORIDA 14; 8:03
FAU’s defense came up with the play to tie the game. On second-and-4 from the Florida 16, Harris rolled out but was overwhelmed by the FAU rush. Tre Hendrickson hit him at the Florida 9 and the ball flew into the end zone where Ocie Rose recovered for the touchdown. Greg Joseph kicked the extra point to tie things up.
FLORIDA 20, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 14
The Gators needed three plays in overtime to take the lead. With a first-and-10 at the 13, Florida faked a toss sweep to Taylor on the right side. Harris turned to his left and threw back to Jake McGee, who sidestepped two FAU defenders at the 9 and strolled into the end zone. Hardin’s extra point was blocked.