Before the football game between FSU and Florida on Saturday, if you were told that the Gators would intercept Seminole quarterback Jameis Winston four times, you probably would’ve thought Florida would win the game easily and carried coach Will Muschamp off the field after a big win in his last game as the UF coach.
However, in typical Florida fashion under Muschamp, the offense couldn’t capitalize on the countless opportunities gift-wrapped to them and the Gators ended up losing 24-19 to FSU, who somehow achieved a second undefeated regular season in a row and extended their win streak to 28 games.
“We had our opportunities certainly early in the game especially,” Muschamp said. “We started the game extremely well defensively; had a hard time generating much of a running game especially early in the game. In those situations when you get the turnovers early in the game, you’ve got to capitalize on them; you can’t kick field goals.”
Winston finished 12-of-24 for 125 yards — a career low — to go along with two touchdowns and a career-high four interceptions. But, FSU running back Dalvin Cook picked up his Heisman Trophy quarterback by rushing for a career-high 144 yards.
Florida had two chances to take the lead late in the game, but kicker Austin Hardin missed from 52 and 42 yards out. The Gators forced three turnovers via interceptions in the first quarter, but it only amounted to nine points on three field goals from Hardin.
FSU closed the first quarter out with a momentum changing play. After Winston threw his third interception inside the FSU 10-yard line, UF quarterback Treon Harris tried to hit tight end Tevin Westbrook over the middle, but the ball bounced off his hands and landed in the lap of FSU linebacker Terrance Smith, who took it all the way to the house for a 94 yard touchdown. That ended the first quarter with Florida clinging to a 9-7 lead.
Muschamp voiced his frustration after the game with Westbrook’s inability to catch.
“He has had some opportunities to make some catches. In that situation, catch the ball. It’s really the message – catch the ball. We put you on scholarship at Florida to catch it.”
FSU would take its first lead of the game after a 12-play, 93-yard drive that concluded with a 10-yard touchdown reception by Nick O’Leary. That gave the Noles a 14-9 advantage with eight minutes left in the second quarter. The momentum definitely shifted because on Florida’s next possession, FSU’s Lamarcus Brutus intercepted Harris at the FSU 17. The Noles marched 83 yards in eight plays to extend their lead to 21-9. The drive was capped off by O’Leary’s second touchdown catch, a six yard TD.
Florida responded though with a minute left in the first half. The Gators blocked and recovered a punt deep in Florida State territory and one play later, Harris threw a 15 yard touchdown to tight end Clay Burton to shrink FSU’s lead to 21-16 to end a wild first half.
The Gators got the ball first to start the second half and put together a lengthy 11 play, 44 yard drive, but once again had to settle for a field goal. Hardin’s fourth field goal of the day from 32 yards out trimmed FSU’s lead to 21-19 with 10 minutes left in the third.
Florida had a great opportunity to take the lead after Brian Poole picked off Winston for the second time in the game and returned it to the FSU 33. But wide receiver Latroy Pittman had two costly penalties called on him on the same play — a holding call and a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct– that resulted in a missed 52 yard field goal from Hardin to end the third quarter and keep the score locked at 21-19.
Florida would catch a break following FSU’s decision to try for a fake punt, but couldn’t turn it into points — a constant theme throughout the game. The Gators got the ball to the FSU 25 after a 41 yard reception by Demarcus Robinson. However, Hardin missed the field goal try from 42 yards to once again allow FSU to keep the lead with nine minutes to go in the game.
Following a six minute, 55-yard drive, FSU extended its lead to 24-19 thanks to a 37 yard field goal from Roberto Aguayo. Florida got the ball back with three minutes left but Harris could only march the team to midfield before throwing his sixth incomplete pass on the drive, a pass over the middle to a wide open Robinson that was thrown behind him and he was unable to make the catch.
The Florida players were definitely disappointed they couldn’t send Coach Boom out with a W.
“No reason to hang our head, but again it wasn’t enough,” senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “I wish we could have gone out with a win. It was right there – we tasted victory. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
Muschamp said it was a fitting end to his tough tenure at UF.
“I think so. We have had our opportunities. You look at two other games where we have the game in hand and we had our opportunity to get it done. It falls on my shoulders and that’s why they are going to be looking for a coach.”
Now the Gators will look for a new head coach and in the process await a bowl selection as well.