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Florida State 24, Florida 19: Gators come at the king and miss

A valiant effort by a team that just couldn't get over the hump? Yeah, that'll do as a final game for Will Muschamp.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't over, this 24-19 loss by Florida to Florida State in Tallahassee, until the clock read zero. But it was over so many times before that.

When Florida only cashed in a fantastic first quarter for nine points on three field goals? When Florida State somehow turned Florida's third interception of Jameis Winston in the first quarter into a pick-six? When Nick O'Leary made his first touchdown catch? When O'Leary made his second? When Brian Poole didn't turn a pick into a pick-six? When Florida missed its first field goal of the second half? When Florida missed the second one? When FSU pushed a field goal edge to a touchdown advantage on a final drive in the fourth quarter?

It was over, over and over again, and Florida fans had seen this film, the one in which Will Muschamp's Gators die despite their best efforts, over and over again, too.

Florida finished with four picks of Winston, his new career high, and Poole had two, both spectacular; the other two, by Jabari Gorman and Quincy Wilson, might have been even better. FSU rushed for 181 yards, and Dalvin Cook had 144 of them, but Winston finished just 12-for-24 passing, with 125 yards and two touchdowns (both to O'Leary on red zone throws), and Florida essentially shut down the signature feature of FSU's title defense.

But the signature feature of the Muschamp tenure, stultifying offense, was an issue over and over again on this day. The Gators began their first four drives in FSU territory, yet allowed almost as many points on a Treon Harris pick-six — bobbled by Tevin Westbrook, housed by Terrance Smith — as they scored (nine) on those possessions, and didn't enter the red zone despite beginning in FSU territory on any of the first three drives.

Florida punted just three times, and only had two turnovers, but it didn't have a single drive of more than 44 yards, and ended both of its 44-yard drives with field goals. The only time Florida, which got 169 passing yards from Harris, and just 113 from its running game, did cross the FSU 20 — instead of starting inside it — was on one of those 44-yard drives, which terminated with a field goal.

Austin Hardin made four of those field goals on this day, but missed just wide right on two in the second half, and Florida lost by five. Florida could've driven for a field goal had either of O'Leary's scores been swapped for a touchdown. Smith's pick-six was worth seven points.

This was a close game throughout, with the only double-digit lead held for 1:27 in the second quarter by the 'Noles, before a blocked punt and a one-play touchdown drive cut the halftime deficit to 21-16.

But it was a loss, like most of the other 20 losses by Florida under Muschamp, that almost hurts more for the blood and sweat spent making it close. The Gators covered a touchdown line today, not that it matters, and FSU fell to 3-9 on the season against the spread, not that that matters.

Losing close in a valiant effort is the recipe for talking about moral victories, and there's plenty to be proud of in how Florida fought, with the exception of an inexcusable shove of Winston by freshman Gerald Willis, who was promptly banished to the locker room for his childishness.

But moral victories are for minor-league coaches.

And Florida doesn't want to be minor-league anymore.