After missing out on a bowl game last season for the first time since 1990, the Gators became bowl eligible again on Saturday.
Florida’s 52-3 win against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Eastern Kentucky at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Senior Day gave UF its sixth win of the season, the threshold required to be eligible to compete in a postseason game.
"It feels great, just a great feeling," offensive lineman Chaz Green said. "As a senior, that’s something we want to accomplish. We didn’t want to walk out of here with an upset. We’re fortunate to come out the way we did."
With the bowl game will come a replacement for Will Muschamp, whose last game as Florida’s head coach will be against Florida State this weekend.
UF announced following the Eastern Kentucky game that defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will assume the role of interim head coach during the Gators’ bowl game.
Durkin is the only member of Florida’s coaching staff who was at UF prior to the beginning of the Will Muschamp era.
He started his tenure with the Gators as the linebackers coach under Urban Meyer in 2010 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012 when Dan Quinn left Florida to become the defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks.
In his first two years as defensive coordinator (2012 and 2013), Florida finished fifth and eighth respectively in total defense.
The Gators are 11th this season, surrendering just 311.5 yards per game.
And Florida’s defense came out in full stride against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, limiting the Colonels to just 142 yards of total offense and a 26.6-percent third-down conversion rate.
"That was the emphasis this week, just to start, come out fast," defensive lineman Darious Cummings said. "The last two weeks we started out slow, letting up points on our first drive. But Durkin just made a point to come out, this team’s an up-tempo team."
Even with Muschamp’s last home game behind him, he said he has yet to come to the realization that he will only coach the Gators for one more game.
"It’ll hit me when the season is over," he said. "I’ve already switched gears to next week, that’s just what we do."
And next week — UF’s regular season finale against No. 2 FSU — could serve as the biggest win of Muschamp’s career.
The Seminoles are riding a 27-game win streak, with their last loss coming against the Gators to close out the 2012 regular season.
When the Gators make the trip to Tallahassee, they will be sticking with Treon Harris as their starting quarterback.
The true freshman, who threw for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 4-of-12 passing, left the game against Eastern Kentucky in the second quarter with a knee injury.
Muschamp kept Harris out for the duration of the game as a precaution.
"There’s no ligament (damage), there’s no cartilage (damage), there’s no issues," Muschamp said. "It started swelling up a little bit on him, it was a good hit he took. And it started to tighten up a little bit so that’s why we pulled him."
When Harris exited the game, former starter Jeff Driskel was reinserted into the lineup.
And the redshirt junior held his own, completing nine of his 11 pass attempts for 164 yards and three touchdowns.
"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."
Florida’s more experienced players are making sure its younger guys stay relaxed as they prepare for their matchup at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"As a freshman, you’ve got to realize it’s going to be a high emotional game. highs and low, similar to the Georgia game," Green said. "A lot of trash talking, you’ve got to stay level-headed and play throughout the whole game. Can’t get too high, can’t get too low. It’s going to be an emotional game."
Follow Jordan McPherson on Twitter @J_McPherson1126