NASHVILLE -- Quarterback Jeff Driskel and the Gators did not complete a pass in the second half of Saturday’s game. They didn’t need to.
In another arrival game, Driskel made a statement with his legs and pulled Florida from potential defeat to its sixth consecutive victory. He rushed for a school-record 177 yards and scored three touchdowns on just 11 attempts to break Tim Tebow’s previous record of 166 yards against Ole Miss in 2007, with the last a dagger in the heart of Vanderbilt’s comeback attempt.
With Florida leading by only a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Driskel kept the ball on a read-option run and found a crease on the right side of the defense, scampering untouched and outrunning defensive backs 70 yards down the sideline for the clinching score.
“[Defensive backs] definitely don’t expect for me to run by them, so kind of keep that a little secret,” Driskel said after the victory. “If I get a crease, I expect to be able to take advantage of it.”
He got plenty of creases Saturday night, as the fourth-ranked Gators (6-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) held on to defeat the Commodores 31-17. And without Driskel’s legs and record-breaking performance, it’s likely Florida’s Cinderella run would have come to a disappointing end.
The Gators came out flat, giving up a touchdown on the Commodores’ second series when quarterback Jordan Rodgers found Jordan Matthews in the back corner of the end zone on a perfectly thrown ball with pressure in his face from two defenders. Florida struggled to move the ball in the quarter, punting on its first three drives.
“A game isn’t won in the first quarter,” UF linebacker Jon Bostic said.
That’s something that this UF team has proven time and again this season, coming from behind now in four of its six victories.
The Gators came alive late in the half, executing two scoring drives of more than 10 plays — the first capped by Driskel’s first touchdown run, a 37-yard dash down the left sideline on another zone-read play — and holding the Commodores (2-4, 1-3) to 6 yards of total offense in the second quarter.
“His legs create a lot of things for our offense, and we’ve got to continue to use that and create some other things,” UF coach Will Muschamp said of Driskel.
But the game changed after halftime, as penalties (10 total flags for 80 yards) and injuries began to mount and create problems for Florida. Playing without three starting offensive linemen and two key starters on defense, the Gators showed some weaknesses in the second half, allowing the Commodores to march down the field in 16 plays to open the third quarter.
The defense bowed its neck at the end of the drive, blocking a field-goal attempt and putting the ball back in the hands of the offense. After what appeared to be a disappointing three-and-out situation, Muschamp called for a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from the UF 43. Wide receiver Solomon Patton took a handoff from up-man Trey Burton on a jet sweep and blazed down the left sideline for 54 yards before he was knocked out at the 3.
“I felt good about it all week,” Muschamp said of the fake call. “We’ve had it in for a couple weeks and been practicing a lot and just got tired of practicing it, just wanted to run it.”