(Saturday, October 24th)
Final Score: (2) Florida 29, Mississippi State 19
Starkville, MS (Sports Network) - Dustin Doe highlighted an outstanding defensive effort by returning an interception 25 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, as second-ranked Florida withstood a rabid crowd at Davis Wade Stadium to upend Mississippi State, 29-19, in another close SEC battle.
Florida (7-0, 5-0 SEC) won a surprisingly tight 16-13 decision over Arkansas last week that dropped them from the top spot in the national rankings. The Gators led by just three points in the fourth frame on Saturday before rallying behind a defense that didn't allow an offensive touchdown and held MSU's offense to 237 total yards.
Tim Tebow rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries to make up for a mediocre passing effort, finishing with 129 yards on 11-of-21 passes with two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns by Johnthan Banks.
Chris Rainey stepped in for Jeffery Demps, who injured his neck during the game, and added 82 yards and a TD on 11 carries, helping the Gators to their 17th straight victory overall and first at MSU since 1985.
Tyson Lee was picked off three times and finished with 147 yards on 15-of-23 throws for Mississippi State (3-5, 1-3), which had won seven of the previous 10 meetings against Florida in Starkville.
Anthony Dixon entered the game averaging 116.0 rushing yards per game but was held to 51 yards on 15 carries in defeat, the Bulldogs' fourth in five games.
"I am really, really proud of our guys tonight in the way they fought and battled tonight," MSU head coach Dave Mullen said. "I thought our defense gave a heck of an effort against, as everyone knows, a really talented team...Florida?s defense did a really good job keeping us off balance and creating turnovers. I thought our kids battled to the end and I thought we had a chance all the way to the end."
Down 16-13 early in the fourth, the Bulldogs tried a fake punt at their own 26-yard line. Robert Elliott, coming off an end around, appeared to have enough space for a first before tripping and turning the ball over on downs.
After Tebow put his head down and moved the chains with a four-yard rush on 4th-and-1, Rainey took a counter eight yards to the end zone for a 22-13 lead after the missed extra point attempt with 9:08 to play.
Lee's second pass of the ensuing possession was tipped, and Doe picked it off and went 25 yards the other way for the score. Doe celebrated prematurely and was stripped of the ball near the goal line, but instant replay concluded the touchdown stood, and Florida went up 29-13.
Major Wright intercepted Lee deep in Florida territory later on, though Tebow gave the ball back by lofting an ill-advised pass across the middle that found Banks, who returned it 20 yards into the end zone with 3:51 left.
The two-point conversion failed, however, keeping it a two-possession game. Florida was forced to punt on its next try, though the Bulldogs did little in the waning seconds to pull off the miracle upset.
Lee was picked off on MSU's first drive, but Florida's Caleb Sturgis was wide left on a 37-yard field goal for Florida to keep the game scoreless.
Derek DePasquale put the Bulldogs on the board with a 43-yard boot at the 9:05 mark of the opening quarter.
The Gators quickly worked their way into enemy territory on their next touch, but Tebow was stuffed twice from the goal line before settling on a 21-yard Sturgis field goal to tie the game.
Tebow got a little revenge early in the second, as the former Heisman Trophy winner caught a high snap, faked a pitch left and ran up the middle 26 yards, adding a stiff-arm near the goal line before diving in for the score.
A three-and-out from MSU followed, and again Florida racked up easy yardage before stalling in the red zone. After an incompletion on 3rd-and-goal from the four, Sturgis came in and kicked a 21-yarder for a 13-3 lead.
The teams traded punts, and Florida forced another quick boot with a minute to play in the half. Rainey came in untouched off the left end and blocked the punt to set up Florida at the MSU seven. A short rush and sack led to third down, and Tebow threw an off-balanced pass that got tipped at the goal line and into the arms of Banks in the end zone.
The freshman managed to stay in bounds and raced down the right sideline before changing direction at midfield en route to a 100-yard TD that changed the game's momentum heading into the break.
Christian Ducre's 54-yard reception set up DePasquale's 31-yard, game-tying field goal early in the third quarter.
As was the story most of the game, Florida marched 48 yards into the red zone, only to have Tebow get tackled for a loss on 3rd-and-1 from the nine. Sturgis' 27-yard field goal came with 5:15 left in the third to put the Gators back in front.
"We have to take that ball down there and score," Gators head coac Urban Meyer said. "I think the head coach wants to score so bad that I just keep pressing. I am pressing to score, and we are doing things we should not be doing."
Mullen was offensive coordinator for Florida for its past two national championship teams...Tebow's TD in the second quarter tied Herschel Walker's SEC record of 49 rushing touchdowns.
10/25 00:49:19 ET