TALLAHASSEE — In the highest scoring game in the history of the Florida-Florida State football series, the Gators came up 28 yards short, falling 45-38 to the Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on Friday night.
Florida drove to the FSU 28-yard line with 39 seconds remaining, but on a 4th-and-12 play, quarterback Anthony Richardson was pressured on a blitz and his last-gasp pass attempt under pressure fell incomplete in the end zone. It appeared that Florida State safety Jammie Robinson may have grabbed Richardson’s face mask on the play, but a flag wasn’t thrown.
“The thing I’m most proud of is how hard the players played in the game,” Florida coach Billy Napier said. “They put it on the line, I think, across the board. It wasn’t always pretty but you’re talking about a group that — I’m on the sideline. I watched it with two eyes. They played the game of football the right way.”
Florida freshman running back Trevor Etienne tied the score at 38 with a 45-yard touchdown run with 7:41 left, but the Seminoles answered with a 7-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. Running back Trey Benson’s third touchdown run of the game, from 17 yards, put the Seminoles up 45-38 with 4:06 left.
Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis proved too much for the Gators defense to handle. finishing with 270 yards passing and one TD and 83 yards rushing and two rushing TDs.
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“There are some of the things we knew coming into the game that we knew were going to be a challenge,” Napier said. “The quarterback is a challenge, right, his legs were the difference in the game, anybody who watched that game would say, yeah, the quarterback, the legs of the quarterback at Florida State was the difference in the game.”
Florida State (9-3, 5-3 ACC) snapped Florida’s three-game win streak in the series. The previous highest scoring game in the series came in the 1996 Sugar Bowl, when Florida beat Florida State 52-20 to claim the school’s first national championship.
The Gators (6-6, 3-5 SEC) ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak and now will wait eight days to find out their bowl destination. Whether they will field the same team they did Friday night remains to be seen. Neither linebacker Ventrell Miller nor Richardson committed to playing in the bowl game when asked following the game.
Here are five takeaways from the FSU game:
Quarterback Anthony Richardson hot and cold in rivalry game
Richardson made his presence felt in his first start in the Florida-Florida State rivalry, throwing for 151 yards and 3 TDs in the first half. Richardson started the night with a pregame backflip and carried that energy into the game.
He found wide receiver Ricky Pearsall behind the secondary for a 52-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 7, then hit tight end Jonathan Odom on a 12-yard TD pass to give the Gators a 14-7 lead later in the first quarter.
Then, Richardson hit Pearsall again on a 42-yard TD pass to put the Gators up 21-14. Richardson sat out five plays in the second quarter with a foot injury, with backup quarterback Jalen Kitna moving the ball in relief, before he returned.
But Richardson misfired on his first eight pass attempts in the second half and wound up 9 of 27 for 198 yards, with 41 yards rushing. There were some drops mixed in as well.
“Nine completions in 27 attempts, it’s just crazy to see that,” Richardson said. “It was nine competitions, that’s just crazy to me.”
Run defense struggles without LB Ventrell Miller
As expected, Florida’s run defense struggled without its top linebacker, who sat out the first half due to a targeting suspension. The Gators surrendered 150 yards rushing on 7.1 yards per carry in the first half, with all three of Florida State’s first-half touchdowns coming on the ground.
Travis rushed for 66 yards and 2 TDs in the first half, including an elusive scramble in which he eluded a sack from Florida edge rusher Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. and broke a tackle from defensive lineman Princely Umanmielen to scramble 10 yards to the FSU 1-yard line.
Wide receiver Ricky Pearsall leads depleted receiving corps
Pearsall was questionable coming into the game with a head injury but dressed out and made an impact early. He caught touchdown passes of 52 and 42 yards and had 4 catches for 139 yards and 2 TDs in the first half to help the Gators jump to a 24-21 lead.
“He passed the final test on (Thursday),” Napier said. “He was moving through protocol during the week, he felt fine. Obviously we’re going to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s much like we would do with any player. But you know he was able to play, certainly made an impact in the game, there’s no question. He’s a great competitor and certainly a guy that’s made our team better.”
Florida began the game with five scholarship receivers due to starters Justin Shorter, Xzavier Henderson and reserves JaQuavion Fraziars and Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman being out with injuries. Freshman Caleb Douglas had chances to come up with a pair of big catches in the second half but was unable to make the receptions. Tight end Jason Odom, who had one TD catch, dropped a potential second TD score.
Third-quarter struggles for Gators
Florida went three-and-out on its first three drives in the third quarter and FSU pounced, scoring 17 unanswered points to turn a 24-21 halftime deficit into a 38-24 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Gators abandoned the run early in the third early, running just twice in the nine three-and-out series. Two wide receiver screen pass attempts fell incomplete.
“First and second down in particular, bang bang on the plays, on some of those,” Napier said. “But there’s no question I can do some things better there, across the board.”
With the score tied at 24, Florida was again unable to account for Travis on a big 3rd-and-11 play as the quarterback scrambled 12 yards to the Florida 1-yard line. Three plays later, Trey Benson scored his second touchdown of the game, a 1-yard TD run to put Florida State up 31-24.
Travis did damage with his arm on Florida State’s final touchdown drive of the third quarter, finding tight end Camren McDonald on a 31-yard pass and Kendron Poitier on a 6-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 38-24.
Too many flags on the night
Florida was penalized 10 times for 91 yards, which included a pair of untimely penalties on its final drive of the game. A block in the back by tight end Dante Zanders negated a long pass play from Richardson to Pearsall, while a holding call on center Kingsley Eguakun negated a 22-yard scramble by Richardson.
Florida was able to draw a controversial pass interference call on fourth down to keep the drive alive. But the Gators moved back five more yards later in the drive on an illegal formation, and Florida eventually stalled at the FSU 28-yard line to end the game.