Photo: Gators receiver Quinton Dunbar runs toward end zone on his 14-yard touchdown reception.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Perhaps the most-discussed matchup prior to Florida's 37-26 win over Florida State on Saturday focused on whether Florida's offense could move the ball against FSU's top-ranked defense.
The Gators answered that question on the game's opening drive, using a 14-play, 54-yard drive to march down the field for a Caleb Sturgis field goal.
The rest of the game didn't always go as smoothly for Florida's offense, but the Gators found enough smooth spots between the rough patches to rack up 394 yards of total offense, nearly 158 yards more than FSU's opponents average (236.3 yards per game).
In the locker room moments after the Gators finished the regular season at 11-1, an emotional Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease was barely able to choke back tears when asked if he came to Florida for moments like Saturday's win.
"To be honest with you I want to cry,'' Pease said with his emotions bubbling. "It was a big game and the guys had to make plays and that's what they did."
In his first season at Florida, Pease installed his pro-style offense built around a strong downhill run game and multiple shifts and motions to keep defenses guessing until the snap.
Unlike at Boise State where Pease had a veteran quarterback and a bevy of talented players familiar with the system, in his first year at UF Pease relied on first-year starting quarterback Jeff Driskel at the controls, an untested Mike Gillislee at tailback and a receiving corps that lacks a big-time playmaker other than for tight end Jordan Reed.
The production wasn't always what Florida fans expected, but the results were acceptable for Pease and Gators coach Will Muschamp as the Gators piled up win after win.
The production and results were there against the Seminoles.
Florida racked up 244 yards rushing -- Gillislee finished with 140 yards -- to wear down an FSU defense in the second half much the way the Gators did to LSU earlier this season.
"They scored  in a row and we sustained it and came back,'' Driskel said. "You didn't see anyone put their head down on the sideline. That's what we've been doing all year. We just kept pounding the ball up the middle and we made some big plays when we had to."
Pease said that first drive was an important factor despite the momentum swings that followed.
"I think it gave us a lot of confidence,'' Pease said. "For me personally, when guys establish some stuff, it gives us something we can always fall back on and continue to work in the game as the game goes on.
"We hung in there, we got back to some unbalanced stuff, and the kids responded [when FSU took the lead]. I think the thing that was most important is that we established some consistency in drives. We got first downs. Our guys got going. We tried to hit some things here and there, and we didn't make bad decisions when they weren't there. We made plays."
Pease was pleased with the way Driskel responded, too. The sophomore quarterback returned to action after missing the Jacksonville State game with a sprained right ankle.
Driskel took some shots from FSU's defense -- he was sacked four times -- but managed the game efficiently and made just enough plays to make a difference.
Driskel finished 15 of 23 for 147 yards and one touchdown, a 14-yard strike to Quinton Dunbar in the fourth quarter that served as the dagger, putting the Gators ahead 30-20 with 7 minutes left.
On the play, Driskel rolled toward his right and had Dunbar open underneath and Reed open in the back of the end zone. As the play unfolded, Pease wasn't sure where Driskel would go with the ball.
"Jordan was open,'' Pease said. "He's not really our first read. Jeff stuck with the read. In the box we're hollering look high but he stuck to his read and knew the window he could put it in."
In the end, Driskel made a good play. One of several big plays the Gators turned in to make Pease's first taste of the UF-FSU rivalry a winning one.
"The guys stuck together and responded,'' Pease said. "They got it done when they had to."