Before they begin a brutal October campaign, the Florida Gators polished off their September slate with a satisfying road win over a ranked team.
It might not have resulted in the flashiest score, but over the din of clanging cowbells and choruses of boos, the Gators grinded to a 13-6 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. A week after the offense stole the show, the defense - with a six sack performance - carried Florida through.
Things started sluggish for both squads this Saturday in Starkville. After Florida’s Trey Dean was ejected early for targeting, both teams slowly trotted up and down the field but kept stalling and settling for field goals. The first half featured conservative runs, short passes, false starts, and turned into a true battle in the trenches. There weren’t even 60 plays between these two spread offense teams in the first half.
The Gators trailed the home ‘Dogs 6-3 at half-time - the first time that Florida had faced a halftime deficit all season - and things looked inauspicious for the guys in orange and blue when their opening drive of the second half ended in a Feleipe Franks interception.
But Florida still had some things up their sleeves in the second half - and those things were adjustments. The Gators managed to put up the game’s only touchdown on a trick play - a toss from Franks to Kadarius Toney, who lofted the ball 20 yards to the endzone for a Moral Stephens score. Florida recommitted to the run in the third and fourth quarters but served up a dose of Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce in addition to Jordan Scarlett. The Gators’ defense bent but did not break - and kept the Bulldogs scoreless in the second half, allowing only 43 yards of offense.
After a pair of penalties, Mississippi State still had life in the final minutes of the game, down only a single score. Then on 4th and Grantham, Donovan Stiner rocketed himself towards Nick Fitzgerald and snuffed that hope out with a sack.
Starkville has not always been the easiest place for the Gators to play. In fact, Florida has a losing record (5-7) playing at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs boast one of the better defensive lines in the country, ranking first in the SEC in total defense coming into this weekend.
Florida - and it’s much maligned offensive line - found a way to win that grudge match.
Feleipe Franks looked to be improved. The defense more than did its part, despite an understaffed secondary and a host of penalties. Evan McPherson continues to make all of his (correctly officiated) kicks. And Dan Mullen and the coaching staff showed Gator Nation a glimpse of what they can bring to the table.
This has been a week of storylines about Mullen returning to face his former team. Mullen spent nine years at the helm of Mississippi State, and many in Starkville were not pleased with him leaving the Bulldogs. This week brought quips and cracks (and even name-changed snacks). Digs about lateral moves, trolling t-shirts, and crude button wear have all been par for the course at MSU in the lead up to what many there classified as one of the biggest games of the year. Animosity was on the menu in Davis Wade Stadium today.
But when the saga was finally played out on the field, Dan Mullen got the win. Dan Mullen got the Gatorade bath.
And Dan Mullen and the Gators got the last laugh.