Resolve equals results for Gators
Published: Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 8:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 8:08 p.m.
Somehow, someway, they did it again.
1. A resilient Florida defense intercepted four passes, including one in the end zone in the final seconds, to help the Gators hang on for the victory and end their SEC season at 7-1.
2. This is only the 12th time in school history that Florida has gone 7-1 in the SEC.
3. Trailing 7-0 at the half, the UF offense came to life in the second half, with Omarius Hines scoring on a 36-yard run on a speed sweep and Mike Gillislee taking a screen pass from Jeff Driskel and running 45 yards untouched for a touchdown.
They won ugly, won a game they could have easily lost. Just when it looked like they were quietly going to disappear in the SEC East race, they stayed alive (barely) by avoiding what would have been a disturbing and disheartening home defeat against a 16-point underdog.
But somehow, someway, there the No. 8 Florida Gators were at the end of a long, nervous afternoon in The Swamp, standing in front of their band singing the alma mater and the fight song, celebrating yet another improbable victory.
Down 7-0 to Missouri at the half and looking like they might never score, the Gators rallied for a 14-7 win before an energized crowd of 90,496 that keeps UF's slim division title hopes alive.
We've seen this kind of performance before out of these guys.
“After our first game of the year, I made a statement that it's kind of who we are,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “As we move forward, we're going to continue to improve overall and we're going to become more explosive and more of what we want to be.
“But we're doing what we have to do to win football games. I know there is no one who can question the resolve of that locker room. The effort and the attitude and the resolve of this football team is as good as I've been around.
“The guys accept the challenge, accept the opportunity and embrace it and go after it. It's not always pretty, but that's a credit to our kids.”
With their SEC schedule over, the Gators can do nothing more in the division race now than sit back and watch what Georgia does at Auburn this Saturday. The Bulldogs kept their edge over UF by beating Ole Miss at home Saturday and can win the division with a victory over Auburn.
As for Saturday's Gator performance, this certainly wasn't UF's first ugly win of the season. The Gators seem to own a patent on those. But add up all those ugly performances and it comes out to be a very pretty 8-1 overall record and 7-1 mark in the SEC. By unconventional means or not, this Florida team becomes only the 12th in school history to go 7-1 in the SEC.
“That's a credit to those players,” Muschamp said. “A credit to buying in, to hanging together, to facing adversity, facing a tough schedule and bouncing back after a tough week. I'm really proud of the players and doing what we had to do to win the game.
“Just a lot of resolve on our football team. Guys continue to fight, to show effort, their heart, their togetherness. That was a real question when I came here. I want to credit our staff for hanging together and understanding it's a team win. We win together, we lose together.
“I know one thing: No one is questioning the character in that locker room right now.”
The Gators pulled this game out with some timely big scoring plays in the second half — a 36-yard TD run by Omarius Hines on a speed sweep early in the third quarter and a 45-yard TD on a screen pass from Jeff Driskel to tailback Mike Gillislee early in the fourth quarter.
And they won this game with defense. The Florida defense intercepted four passes — the final pick coming in the end zone by safety Josh Evans in the game's closing seconds — and shut out the Tigers in the second half despite Missouri reaching UF territory on its final six drives.
“That's something we don't just talk about the week of the game,” Muschamp said. “We talk about it in January. It's an opportunity for greatness. Go out and make a stop on the goal line. You want to be great? Be put in those situations and do it.”
There was some greatness on the field for the Gators on Saturday.
Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy blocked a 25-yard Andrew Baggett field goal attempt on the Missouri drive following the Hines TD run that tied the game 7-7 in the third quarter.
On the Tigers' next offensive possession, safety Matt Elam intercepted a James Franklin pass on the UF 4-yard line and returned it 42 yards.
With less than five minutes to play, middle linebacker Jon Bostic intercepted a Franklin pass.
Later in the fourth quarter, with only seconds remaining, Evans secured the victory with his pick in the end zone.
While there were many nervous Gator fans in the stands in the frenetic final minutes, Driskel said there was nothing but calm on the sideline with the game in the defense's hands.
"I know our defense is going to stop them (in that situation),” Driskel said. “So, we didn't have any panic on the sideline or any second guessing.”
After the game, Driskel and Muschamp were both asked if at times they felt they needed to apologize for the ugly wins this season.
Both replied with an emphatic “No.”
“Everyone wants to win big,” Driskel said. “We want to win big, too. It comes down to winning, though. No, I'm not apologizing for a victory.”
Muschamp has said the same thing several times this season.
“No, no, not at all (will I apologize for how we're 8-1),” he said. “I'm just a realist in being honest and calling it the way it is. When it stinks, it stinks. You go back to last year, I probably said it a couple of times.
“When we've been able to win and do what we need to do to win, I'm not going to downgrade it at all. This is a football team that has as much resolve as any team I've ever been around.”
For Missouri, the Tigers (4-5, 1-5 SEC) had a chance for their first signature win in the SEC, but their effort came up just short.
“I'm proud of our team,” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. “It was one of those games where we had the chance to drive and tie the game at the end, and we probably made too many mistakes. There were a lot of good things, but it was obviously very frustrating.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.