Gators lose back-to-back home games
Mississippi State ran early, ran late and ended up running out of the Swamp with a signature win for second-year coach Dan Mullen.
Vick Ballard ran for 98 yards, Chris Relf added 82 and a touchdown on the ground and the Bulldogs upset No. 22 Florida 10-7 on Saturday night.
Mississippi State (5-2, 2-2 SEC) controlled the clock, dictated the tempo and kept Florida’s mostly inept offense on the sideline.
The Gators (4-3, 2-3) lost consecutive home games for the first time since 2003 and dropped three in a row for the first time since the Steve Spurrier era. Yep, coach Urban Meyer has accomplished something that even former coach Ron Zook never did.
The Bulldogs, whose victory over Florida in 2004 led to Zook’s firing, won in Gainesville for the first time since 1965. They snapped a 16-game losing streak at the Swamp and left 90,000-plus wondering what happened to a program that won two of the last four national championships.
”We’re not very good right now,” Meyer said.
Florida had a final drive to tie or take the lead, but Chas Henry missed a 42-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining. The Gators started at the 4-yard line with 2 minutes left and converted a fourth-down play to keep the drive alive.
But John Brantley threw a pass out of bounds to avoid a sack on third down, leaving the Gators with little chance but to try the field goal – a long shot for a punter who is handling field goals because of a back injury to place-kicker Caleb Sturgis.
”That’s a lot of pressure on Chas,” Florida backup quarterback Trey Burton said. ”It’s not his position.”
Henry’s kick missed way right, setting off a raucous celebration on Mississippi State’s sideline. Players and coaches stayed on the field to sing the fight song with helmets and hands toward the sky, then ran into the locker room for even more frivolity.
The win was Mississippi State’s fourth straight, the latest despite getting outgained by more than 100 yards.
Of the Bulldogs’ 58 plays, 49 of them were runs – including 24 in a row at one point. They finished with 212 yards on the ground, averaging 4.3 yards a carry.
Mullen’s game plan wasn’t shocking, especially since Florida gave up 170 yards on the ground at Alabama and 161 last week against LSU. Mullen also spent four years on Meyer’s staff and knows the spread-option as well as anyone, giving him plenty of insight into Florida’s problems.
Ballard carried 20 times, and Relf ran 22 from the quarterback position. Relf’s longest run of the game, a 16-yarder, set up an early field goal. The Bulldogs kept it on the ground, and Relf found the end zone on a 6-yard scamper late in the first quarter.
The Gators, meanwhile, looked lost on offense. They finished with 361 yards, but were plagued by two turnovers, three sacks and several dropped passes. Mississippi State used a steady variety of blitzes to disrupt Brantley, who was 24 of 39 passing for 210 yards, and keep the running game in check.
Tight end Omarius Hines led the Gators with 58 yards rushing, including a 5-yard run in the third. That score looked like it might be a turning point for Florida. Instead, it ended up more like a fluke. The Gators were mostly awful on offense for the sixth time in seven games.
The first half was one of Meyer’s worst in six seasons. The Gators had 138 yards, including 17 rushing, and no points at home for the first time since 2007 against Auburn.
Florida was flagged for five penalties, failed to convert two fourth-down plays, turned the ball over once and missed a field goal. Meyer threw his headset after one failed option play in the second quarter, and was so frustrated he went for it on fourth down three times – including once from the Florida 39.
The Gators were so inept that Mississippi State actually ran the ball six times on seven third-down plays in the first half, surely trying to avoid mistakes and possibly believing a 10-point lead would be enough to break the losing streak in Gainesville.
Making things worse, Florida lost another potential playmaker to injury. With running back Jeff Demps already slowed by a foot injury, receiver Andre Debose left the field on crutches in the second quarter with a badly sprained right ankle.
After an 18-play drive in the second quarter that ended with a missed field goal, the Gators finally got on the board with an 80-yard drive to start the third.
Burton and Hines sparked the offense, with Burton lining up at quarterback and Hines taking over at H-back.
”We fought,” Burton said. ”That’s all you can really ask for. We’ve got to learn to execute.”
Brantley remained in the game and lined up at mostly receiver. One of the few times he moved back to quarterback, it ended with a turnover. Brantley hit Demps with a swing pass, and Demps fumbled near the Mississippi State 20-yard line.
The Gators never got close again.
”You can point fingers all over the place,” Meyer said.