Florida vs. Florida State score, takeaways: Gators win with spirited effort, earn bowl eligibility

By Adam Silverstein
November 27, 2021
Florida vs. Florida State score, takeaways: Gators win with spirited effort, earn bowl eligibility

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

While the 2021 college football season will be one Florida Gators fans wish they can forget, the program closed it out on a positive note Saturday by taking down the in-state rival Florida State Seminoles, 24-21, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Not only did the Gators beat the ‘Noles for the third straight season, they became bowl eligible in the process, improving to 6-6 on the campaign.

The victory was a total team effort — and not just from those on the field. Florida’s played showed energy and spirit throughout the game. The coaching staff rallied despite being down three key members. Even Gator Nation showed up and ensured The Swamp was loud for Senior Day as a number of the team’s best players either played their penultimate or final game in the orange and blue.

The end result is a bowl game — and the practices that come with it. Those practices will be a tremendous evaluation tool for whoever the Gators hire as their new head coach, and a great opportunity for the players to start fresh with hopes of putting 2021 out of their minds.

After losing four straight and six of the last eight games against FBS competition, Florida avoided its first losing season since 2017 with the win. It also handed FSU a key loss as it was gaining momentum toward the end of the season with wins in five of its seven games entering Saturday’s contest.

Let’s take a look at what went down in the Gators’ final game of the regular season.

1. Quarterback battle should (finally) be over: Assuming redshirt junior Emory Jones and redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson are both on Florida next season — and that is certainly not an assumption that can be made given how the season unfolded and the forthcoming coaching change — there is simply no further question as to who must lead the Gators. After a hot start to the game, Jones again imploded. After sitting on the bench for nearly the entire first half, Richardson again saved the day.

Jones completed 16 of 24 passes for 163 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, all of which came in the first half on Florida State’s side of the field (one in the end zone) stalling potential scoring drives. Florida only managed seven points in the first half despite having the ball inside the FSU 45 on five different occasions. All three of Jones’ picks were inexcusable with him throwing terrible balls to mind-boggling spots.

While Richardson did not tear the ‘Noles apart like he did LSU earlier this season, he was consistent and reliable, completing 5 of 7 passes for 55 yards with a touchdown and grinding out 27 yards rushing. He led three scoring drives over four possessions and did not turn the ball over. Richardson’s had some bumps in the road this season (injuries, Georgia game), but he’s also showed promise in exceptionally tough spots.

There’s so much still unknown about the intricacies of the quarterback situation, including Richardson appearing to perpetually be on the injured list for numerous ailments throughout the season. Even this week, it was reported that Richardson would start after Jones injured his ankle in practice; however, Jones not only started but looked to be set to play the rest of the game after Richardson hurt his ankle during his first snap early in the first quarter.

2. Have a day, seniors: Redshirt senior tight end Kemore Gamble and senior running back Dameon Pierce impressed while playing their final game in The Swamp. Both players have been subjects of consternation from fans who hoped to see them getting more opportunities throughout the season.

Gamble caught three passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, his best game against an FBS opponent and the second time in three games he’s eclipsed that yardage mark. He did it with his mother in the stands watching her first game of the season after suffering in the hospital for two months with COVID-19 complications. There was a touching moment before the game of them embracing during Senior Day festivities.

Pierce was barely used in the first half, and almost all of his production came on a single drive in the fourth quarter when he rumbled for 53 of his total 62 yards and a score. he gained three first downs on his first four carries of the drive and would’ve had another on his fifth but had his helmet ripped off. The play was called dead, and Pierce was actually penalized for continuing the play. He eventually found the end zone on fourth-and-goal. The 12 carries were Pierce’s most this year and the first time he received double-digit rushes since the 2020 season.

3. There were other standout performances: Florida’s defense was uneven Saturday and committed a stunning amount of penalties, but redshirt junior linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. was a star with four sacks, the second-most over a single game in program history. Cox did have some questionable moments, but he also forced a fumble and registered an additional quarterback hurry. Sophomore safety Rashad Torrence II continued his tremendous play over the second half of the season with an interception, and redshirt sophomore LB Ty’Ron Hopper continued to be impressive with a team-high nine tackles. Redshirt junior wide receiver Justin Shorter hauled in Richardson’s aforementioned touchdown pass with a slick snag taking the ball off his own helmet. Senior RB Malik Davis also made some gains in key spots with 68 total yards on 12 touches.

4. Unfortunate injury: Redshirt sophomore RB Nay’Quan Wright, a fan favorite for his quick-twitch playmaking ability, suffered a lower leg injury in the second quarter. He was not only helped off the field but literally carried to the locker room by two trainers, never returning. (Why the injury cart was not used, I have no idea.) With Pierce and Davis both graduating, Wright is expected to be a key piece for the Gators’ running game next season alongside redshirt freshman transfer Demarkcus Bowman, who barely saw the field this season but has tremendous talent as a former five-star recruit.

5. Discipline remains the biggest issue: Nearly all of Florida’s problems this season can, one way or another, be traced back to discipline. The most obvious way this reveals itself outside the locker room is on the field in terms of penalties. Despite new voices in the offensive and defensive rooms over the last few weeks, the discipline problems remained the same. The Gators committed 13 penalties for 107 yards on Saturday, a total that should have been much larger had it not been for declined or offsetting flags. (Not to be outdone, the ‘Noles were happy to get nine penalties for 89 yards.) Florida’s penalties stalled its own offensive drives and gave FSU life and undeserved yardage in multiple scoring situations.

There are so many things that need to be fixed about Gators football, including defensive scheme, overall special teams play, program structure and recruiting, which needs a complete overhaul. But one of the top tasks for Florida’s next coach will be ensuring this program learns what it means to be disciplined on and off the field.

6. Odds and ends: Florida improved to 37-26-2 all-time against Florida State with a 22-12-1 mark in The Swamp … the Gators have won three straight games in the series by an average of 17.7 points … this is the first time consecutive games in the series were played in the same site since 1958-63 … Florida improved to 24-6 when scoring first and 31-3 when leading after the third quarter since 2018 … UF is now 8-12 when being outrushed by an opponent and 7-8 in games decided by 10 points or less in that span … Florida is 14-1 against nonconference opponents since 2018 with a 27-7 mark against unranked teams … the Gators have scored 24+ points in 34 of their last 41 games and did so for the first time against an FBS opponent since Oct. 16 … Florida has scored in 422 consecutive games, an NCAA record

7. What it means: The Gators got a good win. Sure, the ‘Noles are also a bad team, but it had been surging down the stretch this season. FSU also beat Miami a few weeks ago, which means Florida technically won the state, especially considering it also beat South Florida and FAU this season. The Gators haven’t achieved much throughout this season, but beating a rival to become bowl eligible is a significant achievement no matter how you slice it. Credit to everyone involved in the program for winning this game under difficult circumstances.

8. What’s next? Though a bowl game is ahead, first on the docket for Florida is finding a new head coach. That could come as early as Sunday or Monday, sources tell OnlyGators.com. It’s likely that interim coach Greg Knox will preside over the bowl game. He improved to 2-0 in his career as an interim coach and will look to continue that perfect record. More on the coaching search to come this weekend, and more on the potential bowl game to come early next week.

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