TALLAHASSEE — Time and again, the Gators faced little to no resistance when it came time to pressure Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois.
Much had been made coming into the game concerning the Seminoles’ much-maligned offensive line, but Florida’s overall dominance up front was even more impressive considering how little the Gators blitzed Saturday.
“We had a great plan defensively, with the exception of an explosive play here and there and a couple of misalignments, really. Their tempo, they go fast with a lot of different formations,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “We missed one or two checks early, but overall I was really pleased with how we performed on defense.”
When all was said and done, the Gators emerged with a 41-14 win — the third-largest margin of victory in Tallahassee between the state rivals. The constant pressure forced Francois into a pair of interceptions, and the Gators sacked FSU’s quarterback five times. The performance put this iteration of the Gators in elite company, too; for the first time since 1997, the Gators finished the regular season with at least four games of five or more sacks.
“I think it’s heading in the right direction. We want to build a program that competes, not just for SEC, but for national championships every year. 9-3 regular season is solid. It’s a lot we can build off of,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to be a lot better this offseason than we were this year. If we want to be better than 9-3 in the regular season, we’re going to have to work a lot harder this offseason.”
In what would likely go down as defensive end Jachai Polite’s final regular season contest with the Gators, the junior made sure to leave a lasting impact. Polite, who entered the day tied for third in the FBS in forced fumbles, added his fifth of the season on a strip-sack midway through the third quarter.
“He always plays a great game. He’s probably one of the best pass — the best pass rusher in the country,” UF junior linebacker David Reese said. “It’s great to have that boy on our team, and he’s a guy that you just can’t replace.”
Furthermore, Polite’s 2.5 sacks gave him 11 on the season — the most for any Gator since Derrick Harvey posted 11 sacks as well in 2006 — and his 3.5 tackles for loss brought his UF total to 12.5 in 19 career games. And, to top it all off, the other highly regarded No. 99 in action Saturday — FSU star Brian Burns — didn’t add to his 10 sacks in 2018.
Florida’s defensive line seemingly saved one of its best games for last.
“(Our defensive) line played amazing. D-line took advantage of something that they felt was the strong point of our team, and that was going after their (offensive) line. That’s what we did,” junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said. “There was times in the game, if you watch, their O-line was going at each other.”