No. 25 Florida defeats No. 3 Ole Miss inside the Swamp, 38-10
Gainesville, FL–Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was trying to figure out the exact words to say after his team was pushed and shoved around on both ends of the football from start to finish. Before Freeze uttered a complete sentence, his facial expression said it all about the third-ranked Rebels’ performance against the streaking 25th-ranked Florida Gators.
Coach Freeze: “It was a difficult night”
“It was a difficult night. They beat us in about every facet of the game that you can imagine,” Freeze said following Ole Miss’ 38-10 loss to Florida in front of 90,585 fans. “And we didn’t play well with the intensity you need to play in an environment like this early on.”
For the first two quarters, it was the Gators (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) who played with high intensity on both sides of the football. Throwing the first punch and playing with a lot of fire had always been the Rebels’ signature move, but on Saturday night in Gainesville it was the Gators who scored on their first two drives with touchdowns passes from redshirt freshman Will Grier to Demarcus Robinson and Jake McGee.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Gators were up 25-3 and ended any hopes of an Ole Miss comeback with two field goals (31 and 22 yards) from redshirt freshman kicker Jorge Powell and a one-yard touchdown run from Jordan Cronkrite.
Florida defense set the tone for the game
But it was Florida’s defense that predicated Cronkrite’s one-yard score.
Alex McCalister forced Chad Kelly to cough up the football and Gators defensive end CeCe Jefferson was there to pounce on it. Jefferson, then, returned it to the Rebels’ one-yard line. Florida scored 19 points off of three Ole Miss’ turnovers.
“I think it starts, obviously, with defense. Our defense played their tails off and they had a great plan,” Gators’ coach Jim McElwain said. “I thought the guys executed it and they communicated and I’m going to tell you something: they practiced that way Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; they had a perfect Thursday, a great walk through Friday and the routine details of the weekend, they’re starting to understand, maybe, the why and some of that stuff, so it was good to see.”
Florida’s defense not the only positive for the Gators Saturday night
Robinson’s four first-quarter receptions totaled 70 yards, eclipsing his previous 2015 game-high of 55 yards, and his first 14-yard reception helped him reach the 1,000-yard career receiving mark. Robinson accounted for 54 yards and a touchdown on three catches during Florida’s first touchdown drive.
Ole Miss’ senior running back Jaylen Walton fumbled on his team’s second drive of the night at the Rebels’ 38, and it was recovered by Bryan Cox. Jr. The five-play, 24-yard drive culminated in a touchdown when Grier lobbed a high pass over the Rebels’ entire defensive line to McGee for the 2-yard score to give the Gators a 13-0 with 6:48 remaining in the first quarter.
Despite the movement by his offense, McElwain feels it has a ways to go. “It still is shaky,” he said. “You know, we’re growing up just like I said, we’re getting a little bit better and we’re learning to compete. I think the biggest thing we’re learning is we’re learning how to go about our daily business.”
Gators’ QB overcomes “flu-like symptoms” in game against Rebels
The Gators continued their dominant performance over Ole Miss (4-1, 2-1 SEC) in the second quarter with two more proficient scoring drives to go into halftime up 25-0 over the weary Rebels. On the night, Grier completed 24 of 29 passes for 271 yards and had plenty of time to find his receivers down the field–despite his coach’s assertion that his quarterback had flu-like symptoms coming into Saturday night’s premier matchup that featured two undefeated top 25 teams.
Grier’s last two touchdown passes–a 77-yard crossing pass to Brandon Powell and a 15-yard quick, slant pass to Antonio Callaway–gave fans hope that the home team could pull off its biggest win of the season.
Grier became the first Florida quarterback since Chris Leak to throw for four touchdowns in a half. “He was really solid,” Freeze said about Grier, who’s also the first Gator since Tim Tebow to throw for 250-plus yards in consecutive games. “I hope we have a bunch to get the flu next week. They had 21 players that had the flu, Grier had the flu. I think that’s something we need to look into.”
The surprise wasn’t the Gators’ offense, which averaged 404.0 yards per game coming in; instead, it was the ineffectiveness of an Ole Miss’ offense in putting together a solid scoring drive.
At times, Kelly was able to connect with his favorite targets, going 3 of 3 for 38 yards early in the first quarter, but there were many other times he had to run for his life to avoid being hit.
The Rebels special teams weren’t at the top of their game, either. Kelly guided the offense to a 9-play, 80-yard drive midway through the second quarter, but his team came up empty-handed when the 29-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
For the game, Florida’s defense registered 11 tackles for losses and four sacks and held the Rebels to 328 yards of offense.
“It was just execution, everyone do their one eleventh and make sure every play is a positive gain,” said Kelly, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 259 yards and threw his only touchdown pass to Markell Pack late in the final quarter. “We just weren’t executing. The coaches had a good game plan put together for us and we just didn’t execute.”
Ole Miss faces New Mexico State in a Homecoming game Saturday, October 10 at 11:00 am at Vaught-Hemingway.