Gainesville, FL – Jeff Driskel threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass, and the 23rd-ranked Florida Gators escaped their season opener with a 27-14 win over the Bowling Green Falcons.
Mike Gillislee gained 148 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns in the second quarter for the Gators (1-0), who finished the 2011 season, coach Will Muschamp's first in Gainesville, with a 7-6 record.
Driskel had 114 yards on 10-of-16 passing.
Bowling Green's Matt Schilz completed 24-of-49 passes for 204 yards, but threw one costly interception with his team in excellent field position.
An Omarius Hines fumble had given the Falcons (0-1), trailing by only three, a short field with which to work late in the third quarter. The turnover occurred moments after Bowling Green's Stephen Stein missed a 29-yard field goal.
The Falcons gave the ball right back as Marcus Roberson picked off Schilz at the Florida 16-yard line.
"That should've been a catch and a conversion, then we keep the drive alive, but we didn't catch the ball and it got batted in the air and they made a nice return on it and obviously that was a huge game changer," said Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson.
On the third play of the ensuing drive, Driskel threw a pass to Frankie Hammond that transformed into a 50-yard touchdown.
"We were just looking to get the sticks," Driskel said. "We wanted to pick up the first down so I just wanted to give (Hammond) the ball and one-on-one he made a good move. That was all him."
Caleb Sturgis then drilled a 51-yard field goal to give the Gators a 13-point advantage.
The Falcons opened the scoring on their second possession of the game. After converting a pair of third downs, Chris Gallon caught a pass from Schilz and slipped a tackle to set up a 1st-and-goal at the Florida 2-yard line. On the next play, the 12th of a drive that began at Bowling Green's 11, John Pettigrew took a handoff up the middle and a strong second effort propelled him across the goal line for the touchdown with 1:17 remaining in the first quarter.
Florida immediately responded with a 13-play scoring drive, tying the game on Gillislee's 15-yard dash to end zone. The touchdown came one play after the Gators had converted a 4th-and-1.
Later in the second quarter, the Gators started a series inside Bowling Green territory after a 16-yard punt. On the first play of the drive, Gillislee shifted to the outside and scampered down the far sideline for a 38-yard TD.
Florida took the 14-7 lead into the break after Stein missed a 31-yard attempt on the half's final play.
The Gators turned the ball over on downs at the Bowling Green 45 to begin the third quarter. The Falcons gained only five yards before the special teams unit took the field, but the visitors ran a fake as punter Brian Schmiedebusch rumbled for the first down before he was levied out of bounds by Florida's Andre Debose.
The late hit gave Bowling Green the ball at the Florida 27-yard line. Schilz moved the chains with an 8-yard pass to Shaun Joplin on third down, and Anthon Samuel tied the game with a 12-yard TD run.
Schmiedebusch then picked an inopportune time to shank another punt. Florida took over inside the Bowling Green 20, but was forced to settle for a field goal. Sturgis kicked a 34-yarder to put the Gators up 17-14 with 6:03 left in the third.
Bowling Green registered 22 first downs, eight more than Florida ... The Gators were whistled for 14 penalties, totaling 106 yards ... The Falcons went 5-7 last year ... Saturday's game marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs.