GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For three quarters in a game that was supposed to be about a quarterback battle, it looked like the best passer on the field was Matt Schilz of Bowling Green. If not for missed field goals of 31 and 29 yards by Stephen Stein, the Falcons would have been ahead of Florida.
Instead, with the Gators clinging to a three-point lead, Schilz dropped back on third-and-3 from the Gators' 23 on the first play of the fourth quarter. His pass was tipped by Falcons' receiver Shaun Joplin gobbled up by cornerback Marcus Roberson, returned the ball 31 yards to the Gators' 47.
Sophomore Jeff Driskel, battling Jacoby Brissett for the starting quarterback job, then hit Franke Hammond on a short pass. The senior dodged a defender and sprinted 50 yards for the touchdown. In a matter of seconds, Bowling Green went from dreaming of a huge upset, as better than 30-point underdogs, to going down 10 points as Florida went on to a 27-14 victory on Saturday.
"I saw they were in off coverage so I just wanted to get him the ball,'' Driskel said. "He was one-on-one and that was all him.''
It was the longest pass play of Driskel's career, and he completed 10-of-16 passes for 114 yards.
Driskel and Jacoby Brissett started the game battling for the job. Brissett took the first snap with Driskel at receiver. But after Saturday, it's obviously Driskel's job to lose. Or is it?
Second-year coach Will Muschamp said Bowling Green's defense made it necessary to use Driskel more in roll outs, rather than allow true pocket passing, which is Brissett's strength.
"We just felt like were going to need some pocket movement,'' Muschamp said. When asked if it was Driskel's job, he almost immediately noted that was something he will discuss with offensive coordinator Brent Pease on Sunday.
"We haven't made any decisions,'' Muschamp said. "I just felt like today's game, the flow of the game was with Jeff.''
And Bowling Green can only wonder what could have been after the Hammond play.
"We did some things you can't do to win the game in the fourth quarter,'' Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said.
Clawson said the interception was a pass that should have been caught, not grabbed away by Roberson.
"Then we keep the drive alive,'' Clawson said. "But we didn't catch the ball and it got batted in the air and they make a nice return on it and obviously that was a huge game changer.''
Muschamp saw alot of mistakes, such as 14 penalties. But one thing did go the way he wanted.
Mike Gillislee of Florida, who had a career-best 148 yards on 24 carries, scored on touchdown runs of 15 and 38 yards in the first half, matching his total a year ago while playing behind current NFL backs Jeff Demps (New England) and Chris Rainey (Pittsburgh).
"It just felt great to get the ball in my hands,'' Gillislee said. "I was still thinking in my head, I'll believe it when I see it.''
Believe? As in promises he would be carrying the load this fall at running back. And he got all the proof he could have wanted on Saturday.
"I'm a team player,'' he said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win. If I get 24 more carries (next week) I'll take it.''
Said Muschamp: "I told Brent we're going to run the football. We need to establish who we are, you can't talk about it. You have to do it.''
Florida had 42 rushes for 220 yards.
It was 14-7 at halftime and still a tense three-point game despite Stein's two misses after three quarters. Then came the mistake by Schilz, who completed 24-of-49 passes for 204 yards, Hammond's sprint to glory and the game was suddenly all but over.
Caleb Sturgis was another Florida hero with two field goals, including his 34-yarder that gave the Gators a 17-14 lead at 6:05 in the third. Special teams killed Bowling Green hopes, a short punt also setting up Sturgis' first score.
NOTES: Florida has won 23 consecutive season-opening games, No. 2 nationally. Nebraska stretched its streak to 27 with a 49-20 victory over Southern Mississippi opn Saturday. ... Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson were the starting corners on defense for Floridam, another intensely competitive position. ... There weren't many Bowling Green fans around to see the Falcons take the early lead. The school sold only 660 seats tickets. Florida traditionally holds 4,000 to 8,500 tcikets for visiting teams. That left a huge chunk of empty aluminum seats in the upper corner of one of the end zones, with attendance announced at 84,704. ... Caleb Sturgis has made six field goals longer than 50 yards in his career, a school record.