Florida produced the perfect Senior Night on Saturday. Not only did the Gators take down arch-rival Florida State by 23 points, it was the seniors who sent themselves out the right way.
Seniors were making plays and scoring touchdowns all over The Swamp in the No. 8 Gators’ 40-17 victory over Florida State, a win that gives UF (10-2 overall) its second consecutive 10-win season under coach Dan Mullen and possible second straight New Year’s Six bowl game.
Seniors, seniors everywhere.
Senior wide receiver Freddie Swain had two touchdown catches, one from 19 yards in the first quarter, the other from 23 yards in the second.
Not to be outdone, senior wide receiver Van Jefferson had two touchdown receptions, one from 12 yards in the first half, the other from six in the second.
Senior wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland had four receptions for 44 yards and started a second-half touchdown drive with a 40-yard kickoff return.
Senior running back Lamical Perine had a 30-yard reception in the third quarter that led to a touchdown three plays later.
Senior defensive end/outside linebacker Jon Greenard led a ferocious pass rush, recording three of the Gators eight sacks. All of his sacks came in the second half, which played a major role in preventing the Seminoles from staging a comeback.
It was clearly the seniors’ night on Senior Night.
“It’s special,” Mullen said of the senior class going out like they did Saturday. “When you come in, this is how we’re going to run the program. I thanked every single one of them, believing in me, and they bought into what we’re trying to build here. They believed in me.
“For our seniors, it went really well (tonight). Got touches. We made a concerted effort to do that. I really love our four senior wideouts. They all started the game so they can say they did that. I’m pleased a lot of those guys had big nights.”
Now, while FSU moves on with its search for a new head coach, the Gators will wait to see over the next two weeks whether they climb into the top 10 in the College Football Playoff standings, a move up by one spot that likely would lead to a New Year’s Six bowl game.
“We’ll find out where we’ll go in a couple of weeks,” Mullen said. “We’ll see how that works out. I don’t have a vote (for a New Year’s six bowl game). We’re 10-2, we played a tough non-conference schedule. It’s going to determine a lot. We aggressively scheduled two Power Five team non-conference. Unfortunately, we lost two games to teams that are in the top four in the country.”
The Gators took command of Saturday night’s game in the second quarter, outscoring the Seminoles 23-0 in the quarter.
Running back Dameon Pierce got things started with a one-yard TD, followed by touchdown receptions by Swain and Jefferson and a 50-yard field goal by Evan McPherson with just 10 seconds left in the first half to give the Gators a comfortable 30-7 halftime lead.
The Gators were seriously challenged in the game’s opening minutes. After taking a 7-0 lead on Swain’s first touchdown reception, the 18-point underdog Seminoles (6-6) had a quick answer — a 75-yard touchdown drive to make it a 7-7 game.
But from that point on, the Gators dominated the rest of the half, holding the Seminoles to just 15 yards and one first down, while the UF offense was flying up and down the field on the strength of Kyle Trask’s arm and his talented group of receivers, led by Swain and Jefferson.
The Seminoles came alive on the first possession of the second, kicking a field goal to make it a 30-10 game, but the Gators answered with Jefferson’s 6-yard TD reception.
Then following a 50-yard TD run by FSU running back Cam Akers, the Gators answered with a 21-yard field goal by McPherson early in the fourth quarter that made it a 40-17 UF lead. And that’s the way it ended.
“It was a good day for us,” Mullen said. “I was talking about guys finishing the right way, the effort. I thought we played with great effort. We played with great effort the entire game.”
Trask threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns and the Gators rolled up 467 yards of total offense, while the defense held the Seminoles to just 250 total yards.
It was a big night for the seniors — and a great way for them to end their Swamp careers.
“A lot of those (seniors) I came in with,” Trask said. “It’s a humbling experience knowing it’s their last game in The Swamp. I couldn’t be prouder of the way they went out.”
Both teams will await their bowl destination Dec. 8, the day of the College Football Playoff selections from 12-4 p.m. on ESPN. UF hopes to land a spot in the New Year’s Six, likely the Orange or Cotton.