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Florida 31, East Carolina 24: Gators prevail despite Pirates' aerial assault

Florida didn't dominate this one, not at all.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida had to fight East Carolina on this Saturday night, and the Gators had to fend off a flurry of rabbit punches from the plucky Pirates. But it ended with Florida landing the final blow — thanks to a self-inflicted wound by East Carolina — and securing a 31-24 win in Jim McElwain's second game as head coach.

Once again, Will Grier starred at quarterback for the Gators, completing 10 of 17 throws for 155 yards and two touchdowns. But he wasn't nearly as precise as he was against New Mexico State a week ago, missing on several throws and also throwing an interception that caromed out of Alvin Bailey's hands and into a Pirates defender's mitts. And Treon Harris, marginalized by Grier starting, did even less, completing just five of eight passes and adding 32 yards as a runner.

And Florida's defense, playing without the injured Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal all night and without Alex Anzalone for most of it, was gashed repeatedly by ECU's Air Raid offense, which dinked and dunked its way up and down the field all night. Pirates quarterback Blake Kemp threw for 333 yards, completing 34 of 54 passes, but ECU didn't have a reception longer than 31 yards on the evening, and Florida never got consistent enough pressure to shut down the attack.

Big plays, though, were on Florida's side: The Gators got a pick-six from Jalen Tabor in the second half that extended their lead to double digits for the first time, and closed out the game by forcing Kemp to fumble a pass attempt and recovering it — which was punctuated by Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis tackling Alex McCalister to preserve possession.

With SEC play one week away, Florida has plenty of room to improve.