UF handles top defense


Florida tight end Jordan Reed carries for a first down during the 1st half of the Gators' rivalry game against Florida State University November 24, 2012 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla. (Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 9:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 9:13 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Before every game, veteran college football beat writer Robbie Andreu comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here’s Week 12:

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Florida tight end Jordan Reed carries for a first down during the 1st half of the Gators' rivalry game against Florida State University November 24, 2012 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla. (Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun

1. The offensively challenged Gators scored only one touchdown against Jacksonville State a week ago (the other was scored by the defense). Is there any chance of matching that total against the nation’s No. 1 defense?

The Gators matched that total on a 9-yard run by tailback Mike Gillislee with 5:26 remaining in the second quarter, and that was just the start for an offense that came to life against the nation’s No. 1 defense. By the time it was over, the offense had produced four touchdowns in perhaps its best performance of the season, considering the opponent and the enormity of the game. And those last three touchdowns came when the game was on the line, when UF desperately needed something good to happen in the fourth quarter. The Gators took the lead on a 37-yard TD run by Gillislee, then put the game away with a touchdown pass from Driskel to wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and a 32-yard TD run by true freshman tailback Matt Jones. It all added up to 37 points against a team that leads the nation in total defense.

2. Can the Gators generate a pass rush with their four-man front, and can they prevent FSU quarterback EJ Manuel from hurting them with his legs?

Manuel made quite a few plays with his legs, including his meaningless 22-yard TD run as time expired. But for the most part, the Gators contained him and kept him in the pocket, and as a result he finished with only 54 rushing yards. As for the four-man rush, there wasn’t much there for a large portion of the game. But when the game was in the balance in the fourth quarter, the four-man rush produced one of the biggest defensive plays of the season — a sack by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd that went for a huge loss (16 yards) and knocked the Seminoles out of field-goal range that kept it a one-score game in favor of the Gators. The Gators recorded only two sacks, but the defensive front stayed in its lanes and came up with winning plays in the decisive fourth quarter.

3. Florida tailback Mike Gillislee needs only 36 yards rushing to reach 1,000 on the season. Can he get those yards against a fast, physical FSU front that usually stuffs opposing running games?

With the help of an aggressive offensive game plan to start, the Gators established Gillislee early and he ended any drama surrounding his chances of going over 1,000 yards for the season. He went past 1,000 in the first quarter, rushing for 43 yards on nine carries. And he wasn’t through yet. Considering the defense he was going against, Gillislee had one of his best halves of the season, rushing for 75 yards and a touchdown. He followed with a strong second half and ended the game with 140 rushing yards on 24 carries (5.8 yards a carry) and two touchdowns. His 37-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter gave the Gators a 23-20 lead. It was a big night for Gillislee and the UF ground game against a stout defensive front.

4. Can the Gators compensate for their sputtering offense with strong performances on defense and in special teams?

It wasn’t the best of games for the special teams, what with the botched fake-field goal attempt in the first half and some long FSU returns. But, in the end, the Gators won this battle. They forced a fumble on a kickoff, and Marcus Roberson had a big punt return (50 yards) in the fourth quarter that set up a touchdown — a 14-yard pass from Jeff Driskel to Quinton Dunbar — that gave the Gators a 30-20 lead. And the defense, what can you say about that effort and performance. The Gators controlled the line of scrimmage, came up with big sacks and forced four of FSU’s five turnovers. With the offense doing its part, it was a total team victory for UF.

5. Who wins the battle between the UF defensive backs and the FSU receivers?

The Seminoles got some receivers open, wide open, at times, but overall the coverage in the secondary was sound. Manuel threw for only 182 yards and one touchdown, and the Gators intercepted him three times (one each from Marcus Roberson, Matt Elam and Jelani Jenkins). When the Gators needed to cover up the FSU receivers in the fourth quarter, they did. On one of those occasions, it led to a 16-yard sack of Manuel by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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