But then came those pesky Rebels. The same Ole Miss (3-2, 1-1 SEC) team that has beaten the Gators (3-1, 1-1 SEC) in three of the last four meetings after a surprising 31-30 win in front of 90,106 in The Swamp on Saturday afternoon.
The Gator offense was marred with mistakes and the defense allowed the big play as they suffered their first loss of the season.
"I give credit where credit is due," head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. "They played very hard. We did not play Florida football. We had too many miscues, dropped passes, turnovers and third down conversions, which is one of our strengths."
After not turning the ball over at all through the first three games, Florida turned it over three times against Ole Miss. First, Aaron Hernandez fumbled while trying to pick up extra yardage at the end of a 29-yard pass play. It didn't lead to points for the Rebels, but it certainly had an impact on the Florida offense.
It was the third quarter, though, where things really unraveled. Percy Harvin fumbled on the second play of the second half, which eventually led to three points for Ole Miss. On Florida's first play after the Ole Miss field goal, Tim Tebow fumbled, setting up another Rebel score. It tied the score, and more importantly, shifted momentum away from the Gators.
"I am disappointed," Meyer said. "I've been doing this a long time and you're going to have mistakes. I don't think it was an effort issue. If it was an effort issue, I'd tell you, and we've had that around here. We just need to get better. We've lost a couple of games around here. We just need to find out what kind of toughness we're made of. Everyone says that, but it's true."
The Gators posted 443 yards of total offense. Tebow had his best game of the season statistically completing 24-of-38 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown. But for another week, they just looked out of sync. There were good moments, but there were a lot of not-so-great moments as well.
"We had three turnovers and lots of dropped passes," Meyer said. "I thought it made our offense look very nonfunctional. After the first drive or two drives of the second half, I thought Tim threw the ball well and the receivers caught the ball well. It wasn't enough to win the game."
Despite the turnovers and a "nonfunctional" offense, the game really came down to two plays in the fourth quarter. With 3:28 left and Florida trailing by seven points, Percy Harvin ran 15 yards for a touchdown. Harvin carried 10 times for 82 yards and caught 13 passes for 186 yards.
But on a controversial play, Ole Miss blocked Jonathan Phillips' extra point attempt, maintaining a one-point lead for the Rebels.
"It's illegal to hurdle a player to block a field goal in college football," Meyer said. "I grabbed an official earlier in the game and said they were doing this, and the guy made the comment that they went through a gap. The way we teach field goal protection, there should be no gap."
The Gators had another chance. The defense stopped Ole Miss on three straight plays, forcing a punt. Florida drove 46 yards and made it to the Mississippi 32 with 55-seconds left. They faced a 4th-and-1, which has been known as Tebow Time for the last three seasons. This time though, Tebow was stopped.
"In those kinds of situations, he's our best runner," Meyer said. "In another situation earlier in the game we ran an option play. In that situation, we decided it was the best play."
The Gator defense played well except for a couple of big plays. The biggest came on the winning touchdown when Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead hit Shay Hodge on an 86-yard pass play, beating safety Major Wright.
"It was cover two," Meyer said. "You had a flat player and a deep player over the top. There were only two receivers."
The Gators gave up four big plays – the 86-yard pass, a 40-yard touchdown run by running back Dexter McCluster, another 36-yard pass play to Hodge, and a 28-yard run by Brandon Bolden. Those four plays accounted for 190 yards. Four times, the Rebels started drives from inside Florida territory.
"The defense had the blown coverage," Meyer said. "But our offense put them in terrible position."
One thing about the loss is that it will allow Meyer to learn a little bit about the toughness of his team.
"There is some uneasiness," he said. "The challenge is that the Ray McDonalds and Jemalle Corneliuses of the world would get over this and go. There are some devastated football players in there, but that's college football.
"It's hard. It's awful, bad stuff. We'll find out what kind of team we are. I've said this before, any clown can walk out there and pick up a crystal ball and put on a hat, but those guys came back after an Auburn loss."
Florida travels to Arkansas next week.
An Uneasy Loss
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