GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — After a tumultuous week that included the firing of coach Will Muschamp, this was exactly what Florida needed.
A feel-good victory.
Jeff Driskel threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score, and the Gators became bowl eligible with a 52-3 win over lower-division Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.
Florida (6-4) dominated every aspect of the game, snapped a three-game losing streak at home and sent Muschamp and the team’s senior class out with a win in their finale at Florida Field.
"We all left the Swamp with a big victory and our heads held high and a lot of smiles," linebacker Michael Taylor said. "We made a lot of people proud today, a lot of parents, a lot of fans who have been watching us all the way back from recruiting."
Florida ends the regular season at rival Florida State next week. Beyond that, the Gators will play in a bowl for the 23rd time in the last 24 years. Florida finished 4-8 in 2013 and missed the postseason for the first time since 1990.
Getting back there was a main goal, especially after getting knocked out of Southeastern Conference contention.
Florida’s dismal season reached its low point last weekend. South Carolina blocked two kicks in the final four minutes of regulation and upset Florida 23-20 in overtime. Athletic director Jeremy Foley fired Muschamp the following day. He agreed to stay on for two games.
Players vowed to send Muschamp out on a high note. Defensive tackle Jon Bullard even wrote "Mus" and "Champ" on his eye-black strips, which is against NCAA rules.
His teammates did their part on the field.
Treon Harris threw a 70-yard TD pass to Quinton Dunbar and a 19-yarder to Demarcus Robinson. It was the first time Florida had two touchdown passes in a first half since beating South Carolina in October 2012.
Harris bruised his knee late in the second quarter, and was replaced by Driskel. The former starter plunged across the goal line for a touchdown and a 31-3 lead. He also lofted a 38-yard scoring pass to Robinson in the third quarter, hooked up with Dunbar for a 29-yarder on the first play of the fourth and found Michael McNeely on a 28-yarder with 6:18 remaining.
"Jeff is certainly capable of playing extremely well," Muschamp said. "I have a lot of confidence in him. Unfortunately we went through a stretch there where we didn’t take care of the ball at the position and we didn’t move the football consistently enough and we’ve had some success going in another direction. But I’ve had all the confidence that Jeff, given the opportunity, would perform well."
Driskel completed 9 of 11 passes for 164 yards. He was benched after a turnover-filled loss to Missouri last month.
"We’ve had some struggles, especially in the Swamp this year," Driskel said. "You know, they deserve better. They pay a lot to come to these games and they love it, so it’s always nice to give them a good show."
Dunbar caught three passes for 107 yards, and Robinson ended up with four receptions for 137 yards. It was the first time since the 2010 Sugar Bowl that Florida had two receivers top the century mark.
"Waited four years for that," Muschamp said.
Eastern Kentucky (9-3) did little right all day.
The Colonels took several chances, but failed to recover an onside kick, came up short on a fake punt and faltered on a fake field goal. They also rested starters ahead of the Football Championship Subdivision, which begin next week.
"We did everything we could to win the football game," EKU coach Dean Hood said. "Once it looked like it no way in hell we were going to win, we rewarded some of our kids with the opportunity to get on the field and play. It was the smart thing to do. We’ve got the playoffs coming up in a week and there’s no need to get someone hurt."
The game turned out to be a gimme for the Gators, exactly what they expected when they agreed to the $500,000 payday game.
That was supposed to be the case last year, too, but the injury-riddled Gators lost at home to then-lower-division Georgia Southern.
Florida looked much more prepared for this one. Playing for Muschamp and on "Senior Day" may have helped.
"The fun’s in winning games," Muschamp said. "That’s the bottom line."