But not for lack of defensive effort, as State held Florida almost 100 yards under their league-leading 470.5 average and harassed all-world quarterback Tim Tebow into an uncharacteristically ugly evening. He was intercepted twice and both picks returned for touchdowns; both by the same Bulldog safety, true frosh Johnathan Banks. Those were the only points Tebow threw for in fact.
But he did score himself on a 26-yard keeper in the first half to give the Gators their first lead. And the Florida defense was even more efficient, if not as ‘offensive' as their Dog counterparts, stopping State seven times on just three or two snaps. They also picked three Tyson Lee passes and limited MSU's offense to a couple of field goals.
The Bulldogs called the coin correctly and chose to take first turn with the ball, which worked well initially as Lee hit TE Marcus Green for nine yards and move of chains. But his next throw was swatted at the line of scrimmage by end Carlos Dunlap and A.J. Jones was able catch the carom for an interception at State's 46-yard line. No damage came from the turnover, though the Gators halved the distance to the goal on an option-pitch to Jeffrey Demps for 19 yards. Stalled at the 20-yard line, Caleb Sturgis miss-hit his 37-yard field goal try to the left at 12:17.
Dixon got four-straight touches, three totes around a slick toss from Lee, for 21 net yards and two first downs. Then it was RB Christian Ducre's turn for a bounce around right end and 14-yard gainer, before Lee went the other side to WR Brandon Heavens for 13 more to the Gator 32. A 3rd-and-6 shot for Heavens in traffic was broken up so Derek DePasquale got a chance from 43 yards out. He was good at 9:06 to put State on the board first.
Florida responded with a grinding drive mixing handoffs to Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody around Tim Tebow keepers, either intentional or on scrambles. The Gators ground their way from the UF 28 to State's 29 where Tebow rifled a completion to Riley Cooper at the eight-yard line. Tebow got seven of that on his own, but was stuffed for no gain on second down. And the third chance saw DE Pernell McPhee penetrate to slow the Gator long enough for DE Sean Ferguson to finish him off three yards behind the line. A 20-yard chip shot tied the tally at 3:36.
The Gator defense forced the night's first punt by tackling WR Brandon McCrae for loss of four yards and took possession on their 33-yard line. Tebow changed sides of the field before the quarters change with a 16-yard throw to Deonte Thompson at State's 43-yard line. With 4th-and-2 it was just a matter which side Tebow would attack; he chose right guard and made three yards.
A 3rd-and-3 at the 26 went even better, despite a high snap that made Tebow jump and spin. He landed facing a gaping gap at right guard with support already out of position. Tebow had to stiff-arm safety Banks and poke the pigskin across the pylon before his feet went out of bounds for a touchdown at 13:16 and 10-3 lead.
Soon enough the Bulldogs were again punting it from their 27 with Heath Hutchins hanging it high for 39 yards and another fair catch. A false-start foul was no problem with completions of 13 (Hernandez) and 19 (Cooper) taking the ball into Bulldog territory, and a 21-yard burst by Rainey spotting Florida on the six-yard line. State was able to hold the harm to a field goal again as on third down DT Fletcher Cox forced Tebow to throw out of the end zone. Sturgis' three-pointer at 7:15 made it a 13-3 game.
WR Leon Berry gave State fine field position with a 41-yard return of kickoff to the Gator 42, and the Dogs did nothing with it as Lee was sacked on 3rd-and-9. This gave the Gators possession, at their 25, with 5:53 on the clock. They used up almost three minutes before opting on 4th-and-1 to pin the Bulldogs inside the ten-yard line. It worked out for Florida in a roundabout way as with 3rd-and-6 State Lee rolled and threw, incomplete.
So Florida sent a crowd at Hutchins and any of four could have stuffed his punt; Rainey got the credit and William Green the recovery. This gave possession at the State seven-yard line with exactly 1:00 remaining. Demps got just one on a middle dive and Tebow was tripped up by McPhee, with UF using two timeouts. On third down Tebow had pressure coming from both sides as he fired for Thompson at the two-yard line. CB Corey Broomfield deflected it up into the end zone where Banks caught the ricochet.
And came out running, up his right sideline out to midfield where he cut inwards and was gone all the officially-100-yard way, LB Chris White escorting just in case, for a return-touchdown at 0:27. The PAT had State within 13-10 at intermission. Tempers flared on the kneel-down snap and squads needed separating before taking their locker rooms. Florida, the SEC's leading offense, had reached State's red zone five times and come away with just six points on those possessions. They also held a lopsided yardage margin of 257 to 74; all with only a three-point margin to show for such domination.
The new half saw Florida's first three-and-out with a fine 47-yard punt sticking State at the 21-yard line. One play later the Dogs were on Florida's 35 as Lee checked off and hit Ducre in-stride on the left sideline. The back bulled over safety Ahmed Black at midfield and kept chugging for a 54-yard gainer. Dixon moved the chains on second down with a five-yard blast, but a false-start by OG Quentin Saulsberry meant 3rd-and-10 and Dixon got nothing. So DePasquale booted the 31-yarder through for a tied game again, at 9:32.
Brandon James used a short kickoff and long return to start Florida on their 42-yard line, and Tebow immediately struck for 13 yards to Cooper. Three-straight runs by the quarterback netted another first down, at MSU's 34, before he found Hernandez for 16 more yards. State gave away five yards with an offsides on Cox, but the Gators still called for time on 3rd-and-1 at the nine-yard line. They probably didn't call for a loss of two yards as LB Jamar Chaney and White combined to bag Tebow for a loss. Sturgis did put his side back in front 16-13 with a 27-yard field goal at 5:15.
Taking over on their 33, the Bulldogs changed quarterbacks and for four snaps Chris Relf—his two-game suspension served—was about to out-Tebow the maestro with runs of five, 38, and six yards to the Gator 32. On 3rd-and-3 through he had to throw and couldn't, taking a nine-yard sack from Jones and Carlos Dunlap that shoved the ball out of field goal range. Hutchins' punt was fair-caught at the six-yard line.
Rainey got his side out of a hole with a burst to the 32 and a strike to Cooper had first down at the 44. The drive stopped at midfield but Henry's punt bounced out at the seven-yard line and Dixon was able to earn fresh downs just once. With 4th-and-2 at the 26-yard line Mullen gambled big as Hutchins took the snap and flipped to Elliot running right-to-left. Whether he would have gotten to the corner or not, or got past waiting Gator David Nelson out there, would not be known because the running back simply slipped down for a loss of four yards…as well as possession.
It was just the break Florida could cash in. Tebow had to run on 4th-and-1 twice because his coaches called time just as one play was hiked. After the break he did it all over again to the same left-tackle side and got the first down. On second down at the eight-yard line State thought pass and pulled a linebacker for the extra safety; but Florida lined up in a straight I-set, and Rainey turned the handoff into an untouched scamper into the end zone at 9:08.
Down 22-13 the Bulldogs were obviously in throw-mode and Florida knew it. On 2nd-and-5 Lee was hurried into firing down the middle and right to linebacker Dustin Doe at the 23-yard line. As Doe got to the goal line McRae came in hard from behind and stripped the ball as touchdown was signaled. That call stood review and suddenly it was a 29-13 margin with 8:25 left.
State responded with a eight-play drive to the Gator 36, as Lee converted 4th-and-1 himself. But he forced a strike for McRae at the right pylon and safety Major Wright came down with the third Florida interception at the two-yard line. Yet this came out well for the home team anyway because, incredibly, the Gators chose to chunk it downfield. McPhee came storming in to make contact on Tebow as he fired; the ball fluttered and Banks snared it just off the turf with momentum and a 20-yard alley to the end zone. He made the goal line at 3:51 to became the second Bulldog ever to score twice off picks in one game.
Good kickoff coverage appeared to stick Florida at their nine yard line but State was ruled offsides and had to do-over, with this one run back to the 50-yard line. The Dogs used timeouts to get the ball back in three snaps with 2:53 left. Florida could have padded the final margin more as Black picked off a rushed Lee and ran it all the way in, but the passer was roughed to negate this turnover at least. It didn't help the outcome for MSU though as Lee was sacked on the final snap.
Florida turned a tight game into a comfortable victory despite just 34 offensive yards in the fourth period. The Gators did own a 376 to 237 bulge in overall gains with 11 more plays run. Tebow, who passed on post-game interviews, had a mediocre day passing at 12-of-22 for 127 yards with two picks and three sacks. He did ramble for 88 yards on 22 totes, while Rainey led the rushing with 90 yards on a dozen attempts. Cooper was the big target, four catches and 63 yards, and Henry did his job with 43.2 average punting.
Dixon had his streak of 100-yard outings stopped at five, one shy of tying the program record, settling for 53 yards on 15 rushes. As a whole State runners got only 92 yards, a season-low total. Dixon did get three catches and 21 yards, while Ducre had 60 yards on two grabs. Lee was 15-of-23 for 145 yards, but three of his official incompletions ended up in Gator paws. He too was sacked thrice.
CB Marcus Washington had a career night tackling with 15 stops, three more than Chaney; and State's defense made seven credited tackles for losses with three sacks.