Saturday October 24, 2009No. 1 Football Outlasts Mississippi State, 29-19
Top-ranked University of Florida went into Starkville on Saturday night and came away with their first win at Mississippi State since 1985, as they held on for a 29-19 win and improved to 7-0 on the season and 5-0 in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs moved to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in conference play.
Florida owns the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games, and has now won nine straight SEC road games, dating back to the 2007 season. UF improved to 7-0 for the first time since the 1996 season and went 3-0 against SEC West teams for the first time since 1998.
Senior quarterback Tim Tebow (Jacksonville, Fla.) led UF with 127 yards passing and 88 yards on the ground, including a 26-yard touchdown run that tied Hershel Walker’s SEC record of 49 rushing touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore running back Chris Rainey (Lakeland, Fla.) added 90 yards on the ground and one touchdown and also blocked a punt for the Gators.
The Florida defense stepped up once again and limited the Mississippi State offense to two field goals and 237 yards. They held the Bulldogs without a third-down conversion until midway through the fourth quarter and intercepted quarterback Tyson Lee three times. The Gators also held Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon to a season-low 53 yards rushing after entering the game averaging 116 yards on the ground.
The Gators opened the game forcing an interception on the third play from scrimmage, when junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap (North Charleston, S.C.) tipped a pass from Lee and junior linebacker A.J. Jones (Tampa, Fla.) caught it for his first career interception to give Florida the ball at the Bulldog’s 46 yard line.
Florida drove the ball down to the 20-yard line, but the Gators failed to put points on the board as sophomore kicker Caleb Sturgis (St. Augustine, Fla.) missed a 37-yard field goal attempt. Mississippi State opened the scoring on their next possession after a 10-play, 54-yard drive led to a Derek DePasquale field goal from 43-yards out.
It didn’t take long for UF to respond, as Tebow connected with senior wide receiver Riley Cooper (Clearwater, Fla.) on a 21-yard pass to set the Gators up with a first-and-goal at the Mississippi State eight-yard line. The Bulldogs defense held up at the one yard line, and forced UF to settle for a Sturgis field goal from 21 yards.
The Bulldogs were held to three-and-out on their next drive and Florida took over at the UF 33-yard line after the punt. The Gators moved the ball down the field into Mississippi State territory on a 19-yard reception by redshirt sophomore Deonte Thompson (Belle Glade, Fla.). Later in the drive, Tebow took the snap from the Bulldog’s 26-yard line, rushed to the right side and took it all the way in for a touchdown, matching Walker’s SEC record. Sturgis connected on the extra point to give Florida a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter.
After the Gators forced another three-and-out, they drove the ball down inside the 10-yard line but were halted once again by a stout Bulldogs defense. Another field goal by Sturgis, this time from 21 yards, gave UF a 13-3 lead with 7:15 remaining in the first half.
The two teams exchanged punts, and the Gators stopped the Bulldogs on third down for the fourth-straight time to force their fourth punt of the night. This time however, Rainey rushed in and blocked his second punt of the season to set the Gators up with a first-and-goal at the Mississippi State seven-yard line.
The Gators couldn’t capitalize on the excellent field position however, as Tebow threw a pass into the endzone on third down that was intercepted by Johnthan Banks and returned 100 yards for a Bulldogs touchdown to swing the momentum and cut the Gators’ lead to 13-10 just before halftime.
After some adjustments in the locker room, Mississippi State held the Gators offense in check and forced a punt on the first possession in the second half. Lee then hit Christian Ducre for a 54-yard gain to set up the Bulldogs in field goal range, where DePasquale converted from 31 yards out to tie the game at 13 with 9:32 remaining in the third quarter.
Florida was able to drive down on their next possession for Sturgis’ third field goal of the game, this time from 27 yards, to give UF a 16-13 lead.
The Gators got the ball back at the Bulldog’s 22-yard line after Mississippi State failed on a fake punt attempt, and Rainey was able to punch it in from eight yards out to take a 22-13 lead after a missed extra point.
Two plays later, another tipped pass led to an interception by senior linebacker Dustin Doe (Jasper, Fla.) that he returned 26 yards for a touchdown. The Gators took a 29-13 lead with 8:25 remaining in the game after the extra point attempt by Sturgis.
Mississippi State earned their first third-down conversion of the game with just under six minutes remaining in the final stanza, but an interception by junior safety Major Wright (Miramar, Fla.) ended the Bulldog’s drive.
The home team didn’t lose hope though, as they responded as Banks intercepted another pass from Tebow and returned this one 21 yards for his second touchdown of the night. Mississippi State went for the two-point conversion to try and cut the game to one score, but Chad Bumphis was tackled for a loss on the play.
With a 29-19 lead, the Orange and Blue got the ball back at midfield with 3:32 remaining in the game, but they were unable to get a first down and were forced to punt the ball back to the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs were unable to score on their final drive and Florida held on for their 17th straight win.
The Gators will travel to Jacksonville next weekend for their annual meeting with Georgia (4-3 overall/3-2 SEC). The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on CBS.