Since his death in 2017, it’s become a tradition for UF fans to join together and sing along to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” before every fourth quarter, and on Saturday, it was no different.
The music played, and the phone lights flashed. People sang along, bellowing the chorus and enjoying the hook. But to allow kicker Evan McPherson to focus on an upcoming kick, the song was cut short on the loudspeakers.
But the fans’ singing was not.
The crowd continued to sing Petty’s famed song, a capella, as McPherson put the ball through the uprights for Florida’s 40th point in the last game of the 2019 regular season.
UF finished undefeated at home for the third season in the decade with a 40-17 win over in-state rival Florida State. The victory was also the first time Florida has beaten FSU at home since 2009.
“It was exciting, a little bit sad for it to come to an end in the Swamp,” senior edge rusher Jonathan Greenard said after the game. “It’s a bittersweet feeling. I can’t explain it. All the emotions you’re feeling as a senior, realizing it’s your last time in the Swamp.”
Florida began the game with an air raid play style to match up well against a weak FSU pass defense and never slowed down. The offense spread the Seminoles out and threw the ball all around the field on the opening drive, ending with a tunnel screen to senior receiver Freddie Swain that he took 19 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
Florida State responded in its first drive of the game with big plays, including a hook-and-ladder play on its first play from scrimmage, a 45-yard throw and catch to receiver Tamorrion Terry and a one-yard power by backup quarterback Jordan Travis to tie the game at seven.
The game had the makings of a shootout before the Gators answered FSU with a flurry of touchdowns in the second quarter.
First was a one-yard plunge by running back Dameon Pierce to cap a 13-play, 75-yard drive. Then a 23-yard touchdown catch and run by Swain down the sidelines, and a 13-yard touchdown pass from Trask to senior receiver Van Jefferson extended Florida’s lead to 20 points in a blink.
Kicker Evan McPherson’s season-long 50-yard field goal at the end of the half marked 23 unanswered points by the Gators heading into the intermission up 30-7 with all the momentum on their side.
FSU opened the second half with a 48-yard field goal, but the Florida offense continued to roll in the second half. UF went 75 yards in 11 plays with redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones connecting with Jefferson on a slant route for the senior’s second receiving touchdown of the day.
Seniors were the focal point of Saturday’s game. Jefferson and Swain combined for four touchdowns while fellow seniors Tyrie Cleveland and Lamical Perine combined for 102 total yards. Altogether, Florida seniors accounted for 256 total yards on offense.
“For our seniors, I think it went really well. Got touches, and we made a concerted effort,” coach Dan Mullen said. “Just the unselfishness of a lot of guys on our team, but I was pleased a lot of those guys had big nights.”
While the offense dominated, the defense suffocated.
FSU running back Cam Akers — who came into Saturday’s matchup ranked top 25 nationally in rushing touchdowns, rushing yards, yards per game and all-purpose yards — was held to just 13 yards on seven carries in the first half before finally finding space in the third quarter on a 50-yard run for a touchdown, FSU’s last points of the game.
The defense also collected eight sacks with Greenard leading the way with three. The sack total reached 45 on the year, the most since 1997, and Greenard finished his regular season with nine sacks on the year.
With the win, Florida reaches a second-straight 10-win season for the first time since posting 13 wins in both 2008 and 2009. The Gators now await their bowl selection.
“Never know how that’s going to play out,” Mullen said. “Hopefully, we did enough to get a New Year’s Six Bowl, maybe even more. I saw, Baylor beat a six-win team last week and jumped up five spots. We did the same thing today, pretty handily, so we’ll see how that is.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org