The Florida Gators’ lack of a running game had gone from bugaboo to running joke over the course of their 2019 season.
On Monday night, in a 36-21 win over Virginia in the 2019 Orange Bowl, there was no such lack — and after Florida’s Senior Night in The Swamp belonged to its cadre of senior wideouts, this final game for that senior class belonged to Lamical Perine.
Perine ran for a career-high 138 yards and two touchdowns, including a 61-yard sprint to open the evening’s scoring, and caught five passes for 43 yards and another score, pacing the Gators’ attack as they fended off a game Virginia.
And Florida actually needed him to be excellent on this night, as Kyle Trask struggled to be consistent — despite eventually throwing for 305 yards (129 of them to Van Jefferson for a career high) and a touchdown and picking up another 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground — and Florida’s defense never quite got a handle on slippery Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins.
Each of the first two Florida touchdowns of the first half — Perine’s long run and his receiving score — was answered by a Virginia sixer, the first coming just plays after Trask floated a pass to an out-breaking route that was intercepted and the second coming on a wild scramble by Perkins that culminated in a heave hauled in by Hasise Dubois over Marco Wilson. And though Florida mustered the final 10 points of the first half in the second quarter, the Gators would not score a touchdown in the second half until the fourth quarter, spending much of the third quarter alternately stymied and on a long field goal drive.
Even when Florida appeared to seize control in the fourth, by scoring a touchdown on a Trask keeper (which followed another Perine run initially called a touchdown and reviewed to a sprint to the doorstep), snuffing out a Virginia drive with a Kaiir Elam interception, and driving for another field goal, the Cavaliers had a final counterpunch, driving down and getting a touchdown on another Perkins floater even after having a creative scoring play involving a pass to an offensive tackle invalidated on replay.
Only Freddie Swain falling on Virginia’s final onside kick attempt truly ended the Cavaliers’ threat.
The Gators never trailed, led by double digits for long stretches, and were in position to cover if not for that final Virginia drive. But this was not the dominant performance some might have dreamed of.
Instead, it was a B or B+ effort from a team that churned those out all season — and it was good enough to win a big game against a lesser team motivated to turn in a sheet with an A.
Whether that will be good enough for Florida in 2020? That will be debated endlessly for months, with answers not available until October or so at the earliest.
For this night, for this team, it earned a sweet farewell.