Florida rallies past Florida State with resurgent ground attack
Tallahassee, FL (Sports Network) - Florida took back bragging rights in the Sunshine State, and possibly landed an even greater prize along with it.
Behind Mike Gillislee's 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns and 24 straight fourth-quarter points, the sixth-ranked Gators strengthened their case for a possible BCS at-large berth by orchestrating a 37-26 victory over No. 10 Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Gillislee's second score, a 37-yard scamper that immediately followed Florida State's fifth turnover of the game, gave Florida (11-1) a 23-20 lead with 11:01 to go, and the Gators tacked on two more touchdowns en route to their first triumph over the rival Seminoles since 2009.
Back from an ankle sprain that kept him out of last week's win over Jacksonville State, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel threw for 147 yards and a touchdown on 15-of-23 passing to outplay counterpart E.J. Manuel, who was intercepted three times and lost a fumble against a swarming Gators defense that lived up to its lofty national ranking.
Matt Jones added 81 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts to complement Gillislee's 24-carry effort as the Gators piled up 244 yards on the ground against an FSU defense that entered the matchup ranked first nationally against the run.
The Seminoles were yielding a scant 70.6 rushing yards per game and hadn't allowed more than 136 in any outing this season.
"We had a lot of confidence with our ability to run the football," said Gators head coach Will Muschamp said. "We've run it well versus everybody. We've run it well versus better defenses."
Manuel finished with two rushing TDs and a passing touchdown, but completed just 18-of-33 attempts for 182 yards for Florida State (10-2), which had a five-game winning streak halted in its last matchup prior to next week's ACC Championship bout with Georgia Tech.
"That was not one of his more stellar performances," said Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher. "He was very emotional before the game and I think he wanted to play very well very badly. Sometimes you try too hard."
After squandering a 13-0 first-half lead by enabling Florida State to score 20 consecutive points, the Gators roared back with an impressive fourth quarter to regain the upper hand for good.
Driskel led a 13-play, 64-yard drive that culminated in Caleb Sturgis' third field goal of the day, a 32-yarder early in the period that pulled Florida within 20-16. The Gators' defense then came up with perhaps the game's most pivotal play on the following possession, as Antonio Morrison leveled Manuel on a scramble to cause a fumble that was recovered by Dominique Easley on the FSU 37.
One snap later, Gillislee shot through a lane and raced untouched to the end zone to send the Gators ahead.
Clint Trickett replaced Manuel on the subsequent possession but failed to generate a first down, leading to a punt that was taken back 50 yards by the Gators' Marcus Roberson deep into Seminoles' territory.
After a string of runs got Florida to the FSU 14, Driskel found an open Quinton Dunbar down the right sideline to extend the Gators' advantage to 30-20 with seven minutes left.
Manuel did return on the Seminoles' next drive and marched his team inside the Florida 30, but a sack by Sharrif Floyd ultimately caused FSU to relinquish the ball on downs near midfield.
Shortly afterward, Jones ripped off a 32-yard touchdown run that all but sealed the final outcome with 2:33 remaining.
"I could see in some of the [Florida State] players' faces that they were giving up," Gillislee said. "The offensive line saw that, too. We were just going to keep hitting them in the mouth. That's what we did."
Manuel would cap his final home start with a 22-yard scoring run on the last play of the night, with the point-after try waved off as time expired.
The Gators set the tone with a dominant first half in which they outgained Florida State by a 192-109 margin in total yards, forced three turnovers, ran 42 plays to the Seminoles' 20 and held the ball nearly 22 minutes to carve out a 13-3 lead.
Florida State would turn the tide in the third quarter, however, putting up a pair of touchdowns within a span of under two minutes to forge ahead.
After a 26-yard punt return by Kenny Shaw to the Gators' 25 established excellent field position early in the period, Devonta Freeman broke off a 20- yard run to give the Seminoles a 1st-and-goal.
The Gators would force third down, but Manuel skillfully lofted a touch pass to Nick O'Leary for a 6-yard score that pulled FSU within three points.
Florida State got the ball back right away, as a botched exchange between Driskel and Gillislee resulted in a fumble that the Noles' Bjoern Werner scooped up and took to the Gators' 17.
Manuel then followed a 16-yard run from James Wilder Jr. by crossing the goal line on a bootleg from a yard out, giving Florida State its first lead at 17-13 near the midway point of the third quarter.
Dustin Hopkins made it a 7-point game by drilling a 53-yard field goal after the Seminoles regained possession after a Florida three-and-out.
Driskel showed no ill effects from his one-week layoff by hitting 6-of-8 passes for 33 yards on the game's opening drive, a methodical 14-play, 54-yard march that ended in a Sturgis 39-yard field goal.
Florida put together another long and efficient series in the second quarter, moving 54 yards in 10 plays before Sturgis knocked home a 45-yard kick for a 6-0 edge with 6:53 left in the half. The possession featured two key third- down conversions on Driskel completions.
The differential swelled to 13 points less than a minute and a half later, when Gillislee sprinted into the end zone from nine yards out three plays after the Gators' Darrin Kitchens jarred the ball loose from Karlos Williams on a kickoff return and Jabari Gorman recovered the fumble at the FSU 21.
Manuel was picked off twice over the course of the opening two quarters, the first coming after Florida State took its initial sequence inside the Gators' 30-yard line, but did get his team on the board before the half would end.
A 17-yard connection to Shaw and a nifty 23-yard scramble by the senior quarterback set the stage for Hopkins' 50-yard field goal on the final play prior to the break.
Hopkins' two field goals gave him 87 for his career, which tied Georgia's Billy Bennett for the most in FBS history. He also moved past Texas' Ricky Williams for second place on the all-time FBS scoring list with 456 points ... Sturgis, named one of three finalists along with Hopkins for this year's Groza Award, moved past Jeff Chandler for first place on Florida's career field goal list (69) while tying Bobby Raymond's school single-season mark of 23 three- pointers made ... Gillislee became only the fourth running back to eclipse 100 yards on the FSU defense in the Seminoles' last 32 games, joining Boston College's Andre Williams (2012), Wake Forest's Josh Harris (2011) and Clemson's Jamie Harper (2010) ... Fisher suffered his first loss in six career meetings with in-state rivals Florida and Miami.
11/25 00:18:24 ET