It’s funny how things work out. Not 30 minutes before the Florida Gators rivalry matchup with the Florida State Seminoles kicked off, I posted a clip of Fred Taylor dominating the FSU defense. In that clip, the announcers mention the ‘Noles elite run defense only to watch Taylor finish off a long touchdown run at that very moment. This Saturday would end in a very similar fashion.
FSU entered the game with the nation’s best defense statistically. It left with a 37-26 loss in which is gave up 394 yards (244 on the ground) to a team that…well, let’s just say struggled…has struggled on offense for much of the season. 140 of those rushing yards came from senior running back Mike Gillislee who would not only pass 1,000 yards for the season, but also 1,100. You would think it had been decades since the Gators had had a 1,000-yard rusher, but in reality it was only since 2004. Regardless, it’s a great accomplishment for a deserving player that has worked just as hard as anyone this season. Happy to see Gillislee end the regular season on a high note and think about this for just a moment–he rushed for 140 or more yards three times this season with two of those occurrences coming against LSU and FSU. Not too shabby for the senior.
Then there was the true freshman—Matt Jones. When Gillislee went down in the fourth, head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease decided the best thing to do was to keep him on the sideline as the game looked to be in the bag anyway. They turned to Jones to close it out for the Gators, and close it out he did. Jones responded with a season-high 81 rushing yards. Yes, it was against a very tired Florida State defense (a good defense all the same), but the Gators truly put the game away with Jones’s hard running. The freshman finished the regular season with a modest 259 yards, but the future looks bright for Jones and the Gators’ run game.
This game was about so much more than what the Gators were able to do on the ground (and we didn’t even mention the offensive line; applause gentlemen!). It was about beating FSU in Tallahassee and an offense that was better than expected. There were still noticeable improvements to be made, but the end result of the game erased much of that from our minds. Our Florida Gators beat the Florida State Seminoles on the road to finish the regular season 11-1. Yes, really.
There’s a wow factor with that 11-1 record. The Florida Gators weren’t an 11-1 team heading into the 2012 college football season. They were a team coming off a 7-6 season that should have been improved. We could definitely see a one-win improvement. Two was even a possibility. Running through the schedule and looking at individual matchups, there was also a 10-win feel in the air. 11-1 with wins over four of the current top 13 and a loss only to No. 3, well, here comes that maniacal laughter again.
It all came to a glorious end on Saturday night when the Gators beat the ‘Noles. There are wins and then there are near perfect endings. 24 points in the fourth quarter after giving up a 13-0 lead that should have been bigger. Entering the final frame, FSU was up 20-13. Florida would win by 11, which really was 17. It made for a joyous end to a truly odd regular season. But if odd regular seasons produce 11-1 Gators’ teams, keep coming at us with the weirdness.
It’s been a few days since the victory and I’ve had some time to come down off of my cloud. That doesn’t mean the taste of beating a hated rival is gone, but things have calmed. I now await the future and a BCS bowl. I wanted the Gators to win 10 games this season—that was my goal. Florida is now staring down 12. There is no trip to Atlanta and no chance to play for the National Championship, but this season was a pleasant surprise in the “just win” arena. As hard as things were to watch at times, they were equally wonderful at others. It went by at the breakneck speed of a quick three-and-out, but we still stand here at 11-1 wondering what the 2013 season will bring and how things could get even better.