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The Gators celebrated their 37-26 win over FSU that kept UF in the national championship chatter.

Saturday November 24, 2012No One Can Call Gators Soft After Comeback Win Over FSU

The Gators celebrated their 37-26 win over FSU that kept UF in the national championship chatter.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- This one meant a lot. And after it was over, no one called the Gators soft.

Certainly not head coach Will Muschamp.

The No. 6-ranked Gators closed out an 11-1 regular season that no one predicted three months ago by coming from behind for a 37-26 win over No. 10-ranked Florida State on Saturday.

A season after needing a Gator Bowl victory over Ohio State to avoid the program's first losing record in more than 30 years, the Gators finished the regular season in the national championship conversation.

"We had a losing season last year in our eyes,'' junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. "Coach came to us and asked, 'is this how you want to be remembered? Do you want to go through this again?'

"We decided we were going to be physical."

Florida's physical style knocked FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel from the game momentarily Saturday and forced a fumble that changed the game.

Yes, the Gators once again did it their way, getting up off the Doak Campbell Stadium turf after their 13-0 lead turned into a 20-13 deficit entering the fourth quarter.

As they have done all season, the Gators finished fast and furious, scoring 24 unanswered points until FSU scored a meaningless touchdown on the game's final play.

Florida snapped a two-game losing streak to FSU and likely clinched a berth in a BCS bowl with their 11th win, only the fifth time in school history the Gators have recorded 11 wins in the regular season.

The win also turned the Gators into huge USC fans for a few hours Saturday night since Florida remained in contention for a berth in the BCS National Championship Game if No. 1 Notre Dame fell to the Trojans Saturday night.

"I'm a Trojan for the rest of the night,'' Gators offensive lineman James Wilson said. "Fight on. Go Trojans. After that, we'll end up in a great bowl. We know that."

The Fighting Irish won to remain undefeated and is likely to play either Alabama or Georgia -- they meet in the SEC Championship Game next weekend -- in the BCS title game.

Whatever Florida's postseason destiny ends up, Saturday's win over the Seminoles and their No. 1-ranked defense is one the Gators planned to savor.

Florida dominated most of the first half and led 13-3 at halftime thanks to a pair of Caleb Sturgis field goals and Mike Gillislee's 9-yard touchdown run. However, FSU outscored the Gators 17-0 in the third quarter to gain the momentum.

The Gators appeared on the verge of being run out of town. And then the fourth quarter started. Sturgis' 32-yard field goal trimmed FSU's lead to 16-13, and after true freshman linebacker Antonio Morrison forced FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel to fumble, Gillislee busted loose for a 37-yard score that put the Gators back in control.

Florida never trailed again on the way to their first win in Tallahassee since 2008.

"That was fun,'' Gators senior nose tackle Omar Hunter said. "That's what we work all offseason for, that moment right there when our back was against the wall and they had all the momentum. To fight back there and pull out a win in their stadium, man, it's the best win I've ever had.

"I've seen a national championship but by far, this is the best win I've had."

If the victory wasn't the biggest for Muschamp -- his first win after a 0-3 start against Florida's historical rivals Georgia and FSU -- it ranks right near the top.

The Gators overpowered the Seminoles in the fourth quarter with Gillislee (140 yards on 24 carries) and Matt Jones (81 yards on eight carries) churning up yards on the ground, and quarterback Jeff Driskel hitting receiver Quinton Dunbar with the score that put Florida up 30-20 to really quiet the more than 83,000 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

It was Florida's eighth come-from-behind win of the season and the Gators' third in the fourth quarter. They also pulled off late wins against Texas A&M and LSU.

Not that Muschamp was surprised on Saturday. Shortly after getting soaked by a Gatorade bath, he praised his team's effort -- one year after a 21-7 loss to FSU at home prompted Muschamp to call his team soft.

"Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, they play,'' Muschamp said. "You guys have been watching it all year. We shot ourselves in the foot too many times in Jacksonville [in a loss to Georgia] or we would be sitting there undefeated. That's the bottom line.

"I'm very proud of the way we played the game, the mental toughness we played with. I'm proud of this team and to be a part of it."

The Gators now must wait to see how the rest of the BCS puzzle falls into place and where they will end up. Ranked fourth in the BCS, the Gators further solidified that position with Saturday's victory.

While any shot at playing for the national title likely fizzled after Notre Dame's win over USC, for those who have said the Gators are ranked too high in the BCS due to their inconsistent offense, that talk doesn't faze Florida.

"Our resume speaks for itself,'' Muschamp told reporters afterward. "I mean, come on. You guys have covered the Southeast, you've covered the SEC. You've seen where we've played, who we've played and the quality of football teams we've beat. We'll play anyone anywhere."

That's the Gators' attitude, one that has filtered down from Muschamp to his staff and to the players.

One the Gators relied on heavily when the Seminoles had the momentum and had their home crowd in a frenzy early Saturday evening.

Then Manuel fumbled. Gillislee scored. Then Driskel later hit Dunbar for a 14-yard score, and just like that, the Gators were on their way to another win.

"I mean, we've been in so many tough games that it's normal for us now,'' Dunbar said. "We never panic. We just continue to play ball."

 

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