Entering Saturday's contest as the top-rated rush defense in the country, Florida State figured to be in an advantageous position against a Florida offense that had been reeling in recent weeks. But what on paper appeared to be a Gator concern was instead a staggering strongpoint.
The Gators ran for 244 yards on 47 carries in their 37-26 win on Saturday. If sack yardages are eliminated, that figure goes to 297 yards on 43 carries.
Count Florida State's defensive line amongst the surprised at the way Saturday's game turned out.
"We weren't expecting that to happen," said defensive tackle Everett Dawkins. "I don't know what it is but we're going to get it fixed. There's no way that Florida State defense is going to let that happen again. I don't know - we're just going to have to watch film and see what it was."
"My experience, they used great technique," said defensive end Bjoern Werner. "The way they were double teaming, they did it and I've never seen it before and I give credit to them.
One person not surprised by Florida's offensive output: head coach Will Muschamp.
"We had a lot of confidence coming in here being able to run the football," said Muschamp. "We've run it well versus everybody. We've run it well versus better defenses."
Although the defensive linemen shook off the notion that time of possession was a factor in Florida's successes, the disparity was large. Florida had control of the ball for 36:20 Saturday afternoon, including a whopping 21:58 in the first half. Though the Gators only scored 13 points in the game's first two quarters, history says dominance in possession time wears on defenses late.
And it was late that Florida asserted its dominance up front. After Florida State surged in all phases in the third quarter - and held the Gators to 28 ground yards - Florida erupted with 111 rushing yards on 14 fourth-quarter carries.
The first in a series of back-breaking runs came one play after the Gators forced an EJ Manuel fumble with 11:09 to go in the final quarter. Lined up at the FSU 37-yard line, senior Mike Gillislee shot up the middle and into the end zone to put the Gators ahead 23-20.
Later in the quarter, tailback Matt Jones added a 32-yard score to put the game out of reach.
"In the end, two big things," head coach Jimbo Fisher began, "(five) turnovers were critical in that game and I think the ability of us not being able to run the ball as consistently as we wanted to and their ability to run the ball.
"I think they controlled the line of scrimmage."
Wilder, 'Noles lament turnovers
James Wilder said the Seminoles shot themselves in the foot during their loss to the Gators. To be precise, they shot themselves in the foot five times, with five turnovers that led to momentum changes and a Florida win.
"And with great teams like that, they'll capitalize on those mistakes," Wilder said. "When you make so many mistakes at a time and they capitalize on all of them, we were putting our defense in bad position."
EJ Manuel threw an interception in each of the first three quarters of play. Florida did not score any points off of the interceptions, but they cost the Seminoles chances at putting points on the board.
Manuel's first interception came in Florida territory on the 29-yard line off a throw to a potentially-open Rodney Smith. It ended a potential scoring drive on Florida State's first possession.
"The pressure caused him to miss the throw, and we had a field goal right there that could have matched their field goal, or really (we had) a first down because Rodney was open on the play and we ended up getting a turnover," said Jimbo Fisher.
The Seminoles also lost two fumbles. Those times, Florida found ways to score. Karlos Williams fumbled a kickoff return in the second quarter that gave the Gators the ball at the Florida State 21-yard line. It took the Gators just three plays to score.
Manuel fumbled after taking a hard hit early in the fourth quarter and Florida's Domnique Easley recovered the ball at the 37-yard line. It proved the most costly turnover of the game as Florida scored on the very next play and retook the lead.
"Turnovers are going to hurt regardless, no matter at what point in the game they happen," Kenny Shaw said. "They definitely hurt us."
As for the other side, Florida turned the ball over just once in the game. The 14 points the Gators scored off turnovers provided the margin for them to leave with a win.
Fisher considered the lost fumbles and interceptions the most critical part of the game as they were what sealed the loss for the 'Noles.
"The big thing goes back to turnovers," he said. "That has the biggest effect in ball."
Manuel went down after being sacked and fumbling in the fourth quarter, sitting out the subsequent series while being looked at by trainers on the bench. Upon replay, the hit seemed to impact Manuel's helmet, but both Fisher and Manuel said it was the quarterback's stomach that took the brunt of the damage.
"He got hit in the stomach and they were evaluating whether he got a rib or something," Fisher said. "He got the wind really knocked out of him and they couldn't tell if he had cracked a rib or something. But they felt very good after they went over and moved him and talked to him and got him going that he could come back and the doctor said he was perfectly well to come back into the game."
Fisher had no comment on the injury or status of Cornellius Carradine, who limped off the field - under his own power - with ice around his right knee at the conclusion of the game.
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