Florida blanks Jacksonville to go perfect at home

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

GAINESVILLE -- Florida's home schedule ended, fittingly, with the defense bailing out the inconsistent offense with a big play, kicker Caleb Sturgis adding a trio of field goals and senior tailback Mike Gillislee rolling up some impressive yardage and making key runs, as the Gators beat Jacksonville State, 23-0, Saturday on Senior Day.
"I really appreciate them going through a coaching change (two years) ago," Gators coach Will Muschamp said of the 19 seniors. "Going through a 7-6 campaign, questioning a rookie coach and staff and where we were headed with the program. They certainly could have walked the planks, so to speak, on us and certainly never did."
Instead, UF is 10-1 and ranked in the top 10 nationally, with a shot at a BCS bowl bid still an outside shot.
"I understand quality when I see it, and they are a very well-trained team, along with a truly talented team," Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe said.
Marques Ivory's first pass of the second half, on third-and-10 from his own 2, was picked off by UF linebacker Jon Bostic and returned 7 yards for a touchdown. It was fitting that the final touchdown scored on Florida Field in the 2012 season was by a defensive player.
The Gators avoided a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette last week thanks to a blocked punt that was returned by fellow linebacker Jelani Jenkins for the winning score.
Florida entered the game ranked 12th nationally with a plus-12 margin. Bostic's interception was UF's 16th this season. While going 7-0 at home, the Gators forced three turnovers in a 14-6 win against LSU, recovered three fumbles and got an interception in a 44-11 win over South Carolina and had four picks in a 14-7 win against Missouri.
So it was also fitting that, one final time, a defensive play wrapped up another game.
Gillislee, who needed 158 yards to become the first Gator back since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 to rush for more than 1,000 yards, got closer Saturday. He recorded his fourth career 100-yard game midway through the third quarter, and finished with 122 yards on 20 carries, including a touchdown.
He is now 36 shy going into next Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game at Florida State.
Sturgis added field kicks of 44 and 47 yards, his fourth three-field goal game of the season.
The first half wasn't overly impressive, once again, for the Florida offense, but it was enough for the Gators to take a 10-0 lead at the break.
Jacksonville State opened the game with a 76-yard pass play from Ivory to Kevyn Cooper, but the Gators forced a field-goal attempt that Griffin Thomas missed from 25 yards out.
Florida rolled 80 yards in 12 plays in its first possession, going up 7-0 on Gillislee's 7-yard run, his eighth rushing TD of the season. The Gators ran 11 times in the drive, including the last nine in a row.
Florida made it 10-0 with 2:22 left in the first quarter when Sturgis made a 21-yard field goal. Gillislee's 46-run on the first play of the six-play drive keyed that score, and Trey Burton also had a 13-yard scramble from the Wildcat quarterback position.
All told, the Gators had 130 yards rushing in the first quarter alone in Jacoby Brissett's first start at quarterback this season. Jeff Driskel suffered an ankle sprain in last week's 27-20 win against Louisiana and watched from the sidelines in street clothes.
"I felt like I played all right, managed the game well," Brissett said. "We came out with the win, that's all that matters to me."
Questions remain about whether he'll be healthy enough to start next Saturday game at FSU -- a must win for the Gators if they hope to hold on to any chance at a BCS bowl berth.
It might not be a bad thing if Brissett, who finished 14 of 22 for 154 yards, gets another start. Entering Saturday, Florida had just 20 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season. Brissett had four pass plays of 20-plus yards in the first half alone, albeit against a struggling Gamecocks defense that came into the day allowing almost 250 yards per contest through the air.
"It's coaches' decision," Brissett said of next week's game. "Hopefully we get Jeff back and whatever coach decides we'll be ready for them."
Griffin Thomas missed field goal attempts of 25 and 36 yards to ruin Jacksonville State's best opening half threats.
NOTES: Florida's 10 points were the most scored in the first quarter of a game all season. UF came into the game having been outscored, 27-40, this season in the opening 15 minutes of its first 10 games, the only quarter the Gators have lost this season. ... Sturgis hit a trio of field goals, but had one blocked to make him 20 of 24 for the season. He's one shy of the UF career mark of 67, held by Jeff Chandler. ... UF has won 10 games in a season for the first time since 2009, when the Gators were ranked No. 1 going into the SEC Championship Game, only to lose to Alabama. ... Kevyn Cooper's 76-yard reception on Jacksonville State's first offensive play was the longest pass completion against Florida this season. ... Gators defensive lineman Dominique Easley suffered a right leg muscle injury in the first half.

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