Florida: 13 Mississippi State: 6
Starkville, MS – The emotions were high in Starkville as the Bulldogs played host to the Florida Gators and former head coach, Dan Mullen. Since Mullen accepted the job at Florida, this date has been circled by State fans everywhere. The week leading up to the maligned homecoming was filled with plenty of bulletin board material and fans could be seen throughout the stadium donning shirts that read, “Dan who?”
The truth is undeniable. Mullen changed the landscape for Mississippi State’s football program and the fans will feel the sting of his departure for some time. It is safe to say that after Mullen’s new team left the field tonight, all of Starkville was reminded just who Dan is as the Gators held off the Bulldogs 13-6 for a hard fought road SEC victory.
The effects of Mullen’s coaching acumen and culture of uncompromising standards and relentless effort are already making themselves apparent as the Gators won their second consecutive SEC road game. This one, though low scoring, appeared to be the most complete team performance yet for a team that has improved each week.
With the win, Florida makes a loud statement. They are a team that is beginning to believe that they can compete with anyone, even on the road versus a top-25 opponent. The team has matched last season’s win total and Feleipe Franks looked confident and comfortable in command of the offense while facing one of the best defensive fronts he will see all year.
The Gators defense, who entered Saturday leading the nation in takeaways, proved that they can win without relying on opponents mistakes. They tallied 6 sacks on the evening and never allowed Miss State’s offense to find a rhythm.
1st Quarter: Florida 0 Mississippi State 3
After forcing a three and out on their first series, they found themselves on their heels a bit during the next series. But they showed their resolve by stiffening and forcing MSU to settle for a field goal. A feat made more impressive by the fact that they did so without defensive back Trey Dean who was ejected for targeting on the punt before the drive began.
Franks: 22/31, 219 YD 1 INT
Toney: 1/1, 20 YD 1 TD
Fitzgerald: 11/26, 98 YD
2nd Quarter: Florida 3 Mississippi State 3
Florida would respond to the Miss State score with a field goal of their own on their second possession. There were several procedural penalties by the Gators throughout the game that will need to be cleaned up moving forward but otherwise, the offense was methodical and efficient as they moved down field.
This marked the first time, perhaps since the beating of Ole Miss in 2015 that Florida’s offense consistently sustained drives and you could see their confidence grow throughout the game. While there weren’t a lot of fireworks, this might have been the most satisfying offensive performance of the season.
Stephens: 1 REC, 20 YD 1 TD
Hammond: 3 REC, 47 YD
Grimes: 4 REC, 34
Jefferson: 4 REC, 29 YD
Mitchell: 3 REC, 35 YD
Thomas: 2 REC, 21 YD
3rd Quarter: Florida 7 Mississippi State 0
Florida received the ball to begin the second half and the adjustments made were apparent. Dan Mullen shifted to a series of short perimeter passes and Miss State could find no answer.
Though QB Feleipe Franks was picked off on the first possession of the half, it was because of a tipped ball.
The defense came out with their ears pinned back and ready to attack. After forcing a quick three and out, Florida’s offense was given another chance. This time, they couldn’t be stopped. Once down in the redzone, Mullen pulled a trick out of his bag that resulted in the only touchdown of the game.
Franks took the snap and rolled to his right before turning back toward the left side of the field where he found WR Kadarius Toney behind the line of scrimmage. Toney caught the pass and looked up field where he launched a beautifully placed pass into the arms of TE Moral Stephens for a 20 yard touchdown.
The damage was done and the fans in Starkville knew the tide had turned. The Gators could smell blood in the water and the defense oppressed every attempt made by State. At one point, the Gators had outgained MSU 189 to 32 in the second half.
Perine: 10 CAR, 55 YD 5.5 AVG
Pierce: 4 CAR, 30 YD 7.5 AVG
Scarlett: 10 CAR, 21 YD 2.1 AVG
Hill: 9 CAR, 41 YD 4.6 AVG
Fitzgerald: 20 CAR, 32 YD 1.6 AVG
Williams: 3 CAR, 31 YD 10.3 AVG
4th Quarter: Florida 3 Mississippi State 0
The fourth quarter would see another Evan McPherson field goal that extended the Gators lead to seven. Florida would continue to stifle the Bulldogs at every turn but even still, Miss State had a chance at the very end that was aided by a defensive holding penalty and a facemask on consecutive plays.
After crossing into Gators territory, Nick Fitzgerald and company could go no further. The Bulldogs whiffed on three consecutive pass attempts to bring up fourth and ten. Donovan Stiner broke free on a safety blitz and Fitzgerald watched as Stiner sped toward him to level a vicious blow.
With the sack, Miss State lost ten yards and the game. Florida sent the offense back on the field and assumed the victory formation before taking a knee to end the game. The win was hard fought and much deserved by the Gators and Dan Mullen.
Florida asserted themselves as a team that is capable of getting the job done this season and showed they will fight for their coach. They will get to come home for next week’s game but they must continue their improvement as they will face a tough LSU Tigers team.
Mississippi State 15
Mississippi State 58
Time of Possession
Mississippi State 26:13
Mississippi State 98
Mississippi State 104
Mississippi State 2-15
Mississippi State 202
Mississippi State 0
East Standings Conference-Overall
Georgia 3-0 5-0
Kentucky 3-0 5-0
Florida 2-1 4-1
South Carolina 1-2 2-2
Mizzou 0-1 3-1
Vandy 0-1 3-2
Tennessee 0-2 2-3
Florida takes on LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. Broadcast information will be shared in the game preview later this week. Be sure to follow the action on the ChompTalk.com Facebook and Twitter accounts too!