GAINESVILLE -- Because of a blocked punt, Florida nearly lost to a 28-point underdog it paid nearly $1 million to play. Because of a blocked punt, Florida pulled off a win in a game it should have lost.
Despite losing their starting quarterback to injury in the midst of another lackluster offensive showing — this time against the nation’s 118th-ranked pass defense — and despite committing 10 penalties and converting just four out of 14 times on third down, the No. 7 Gators (9-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) escaped complete and utter embarrassment with a last-second touchdown on a blocked punt to win 27-20 against Louisiana-Lafayette (5-4, 3-2 Sun Belt Conference).
“Sometimes I feel like the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “Sometimes you catch some breaks and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you play yourself into it. [Louisiana-Lafayette coach] Mark Hudspeth said to me at the end of the game, ‘Great teams find ways to win games. You’ve got a great football team.’
“I don’t know if I’d stretch it that far.”
Muschamp’s team was far from great Saturday. And if it weren’t for a questionable decision by Hudspeth, the story might be drastically different following Florida’s latest great escape.
The Ragin’ Cajuns put up 17 consecutive points to take a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter. But the Gators tied it at 20 following a 49-yard scoring drive led by backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. With more than 1:30 left on the clock, Hudspeth made the decision to run out the clock and try his luck in overtime in The Swamp instead of going for the win.
Louisiana-Lafayette needed roughly 40 yards to put the nation’s most accurate kicker in range for the program’s biggest win. Instead, Hudspeth decided to run on three consecutive plays. Muschamp called a timeout to stop the clock with 13 seconds remaining and force a punt. Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy darted in from the right side of the formation to block Brett Baer’s punt, deflecting the ball skyward and directly into the awaiting arms of linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
“It came right to me,” Jenkins said. “I was just trying to make sure that they didn’t fake it and do something crazy, and I just happened to be right there.”
A convoy of orange jerseys surrounded him as he galloped into the end zone untouched to keep UF’s magical turnaround season going.
Hudspeth said the loss hurt because he felt his team was in a good position to play for overtime.
“We tried to pick it up, and we just didn’t execute it right this time,” he said about the game’s deciding play.
Although he said there are no moral victories, Hudspeth seemed to draw pleasure from just how close his team came to pulling off the improbable upset.
“Any time you see the seventh-ranked football team storm the football field like they’ve won the Super Bowl to beat you, you know you’re doing some good things,” he said.
The Cajuns did plenty good, scoring 20 points while holding the Gators to just 162 yards passing, which was nearly half of their average allotment coming into the game. They sacked Florida quarterbacks five times and allowed running back Mike Gillislee to gain just 45 yards on 14 carries.
But those things also said more about just how much the Gators struggled against an inferior opponent.
Mistakes were everywhere for Florida, as penalties helped to extend all but one of Louisiana-Lafayette’s scoring drives and a missed assignment on a punt protection the series after starting quarterback Jeff Driskel was injured led to the Cajuns’ blocked punt that went for six points.
“We certainly make it interesting,” Muschamp said. “We certainly shot ourselves in the foot enough in the game to put it in that situation. … Obviously, the penalties just killed us in the game. And they were penalties. So we’ve talked about it, and we’re going to reemphasize it again. We have emphasized it every day in every situation we could. We’ve benched guys, and we’ve done everything we can do. We’re going to find another way. We’re going to meet as a staff [Sunday] and figure out what we need to do to continue to move forward and improve our team.”