GAINESVILLE -- Staring at the possibility of dropping their first season-opening game in 23 years, the University of Florida football team responded by scoring the game’s final 13 points en route to a 27-14 victory over an inspired Bowling Green squad.
With the game tied at 14-14 in the third quarter, Florida (1-0) got a pair of field goals from Caleb Sturgis and a 50-yard touchdown reception from Frankie Hammond to pull away from Bowling Green (0-1) and extend the nation’s second-longest streak of opening day victories to 23.
Mike Gillislee had a career outing, carrying the balls 24 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns, both in the first half.
John Pettigrew and Anthon Samuel kept Bowling Green in the game early with a pair of touchdowns, the first giving Bowling Green an early lead, the latter tying the game in the third quarter.
Much of the early excitement surrounded the quarterback position and who would start for the Gators from its sophomore tandem of Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Both did actually, as both were in on the first play of the game with Brissett under center. Driskel then took the reigns for the remainder of the drive and played the remainder of the first quarter and early into the second.
Muschamp said on Monday that each would play in the first half and then he would re-evaluate it at the half. Driskel was under center to start the second half and has played the entire second frame. He finished 10-of-16 passing for 114 yards and the 50-yard touchdown to Hammond, while also carrying the ball three times for 24 yards. Brissett, who played most of the second quarter finished 3-of-5 passing for 31 yards.
The signs were there early that this would be a tougher game than many hoped or expected for the Gators.
Following the Gators’ opening possession of the game Bowling Green took over at its own 11 and mounted the first sustained drive, marching 89 yards in 12 plays and taking 5:36 off the clock. Falcon quarterback Matt Schilz connected on 7-of-9 passes on the drive, including a 22-yarder to Alex Bayer and an 18-yarder to Chris Gallon that set Bowling Green up at the Gators’ 2-yard line. After a holding penalty on the Gators moved the ball half the distance to the goal line, Pettigrew powered his way in from a yard out to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead with 1:17 left in the opening quarter.
Driskel’s third series carried over into the second quarter, as head coach Will Muschamp didn’t switch signal-callers mid-drive.
On that drive the Gators responded with a 13-play, 85-yard drive that took 6:48 off the clock and culminated with Gillislee’s 15-yard touchdown. His score came a play after Muschamp gambled on 4th-and-1 at the Bowling Green 17-yard line and got a 2-yard gain from Hunter Joyer. The Gators got 75 of the yards on the drive on the ground, including 44 from Gillislee on the drive.
Another defensive stand by the Gators forced another punt. Looking for a game-changing play the Gators lined up for a block and nearly got it, but forced a 16-yard punt out of bounds by Brian Schmiederbusch that set UF up at the Bowling Green 38-yard line. Gillislee wasted little time taking advantage of the field position, bursting around the right end for a 38-yard score to give the Gators their first lead of the season.
Bowling Green tried to cut into the Gators’ lead before the end of the half, taking possession at its own 46 with 1:18 left in the half and marching all the way down to the UF 13-yard line. Stephen Stein missed a 31-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and the score remained 14-7.
The Falcons did eventually get back into the game early in the third quarter, however, marching 55 yards in eight plays to tie the game on Samuel’s 12-yard touchdown run up the middle. The drive was aided by a fake punt for a first down and a late hit on the Gators that moved the ball inside the 30-yard line and sustained the drive.
Florida got the break it needed when after pinning Bowling Green inside its 10-yard line, Schmiederbusch came up with just an 11-yard punt and the Gators started their drive on the Falcons’ 18-yard line. Caleb Sturgis hit a 34-yard field goal with 6:03 remaining in the third quarter and the Gators regained the lead, 17-14, and never surrendered it.
Bowling Green once again marched deep into Florida territory on the following drive, but Stein missed his second field goal of the game, this time from 29 yards out.
After nearly three quarters of turnover-free football for both teams, Omarius Hines fumbled and Bowling Green took over at the Gators 30-yard line. Facing a 3rd and 3 at the Gators’ 23 yard-line on the opening play of the fourth quarter, however, Schilz’s pass was tipped and intercepted by Marcus Roberson, who returned it 37 yards to the UF 47-yard line.
Moments later Hammond hauled in a short pass from Driskel on 3rd and 7 at midfield and did the rest himself, taking it 50 yards to extend the Gators’ lead to 24-14 with 13:18 to go.
Sturgis made it 27-14 with 8:28 remaining, booming a 51-yard field goal, extending his school record with his sixth career field goal of 50+ yards.
Florida finished with 365 yards of offense: 220 on the ground and 145 through the air. The Gators surrendered 332 yards, most of it through the air as Schilz aired it out 49 times, completing 24 passes for 204 yards.
In an area of emphasis for Muschamp, the Gators won the turnover battle, forcing two on the game, yielding one. An area of major concern for Muschamp and company will be penalties, an area that plagued the Gators a year ago, as Florida committed 14 for 106 yards.
The Gators now turn their attention to SEC play and an early league opener, as Florida travels to College Station next weekend to face Texas A&M (3:30 p.m., ESPN).