Florida coach Jim McElwain is a master of gamesmanship. The Gators were flu-ridden and heavy underdogs.
“They should beat the heck out of us,” McElwain said of No. 3 Ole Miss.
Instead, the No. 25 Gators (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) shocked the Rebels 38-10, as McElwain’s motivational ruse worked like a charm.
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The same Florida team that struggled against East Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee thoroughly thrashed Ole Miss (4-1, 2-1) in front of a rabid crowd at The Swamp and now sits alone atop the SEC East standings.
“That sure was a lot of fun,” McElwain said. “What a great win for the Gators. That stadium was something special.”
Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier had his Michael Jordan moment, overcoming an illness to spur the stunning upset. Grier missed practice Thursday with a bug that affected up to 21 Florida players, but the quarterback displayed no lingering effects and responded with a brilliant performance in just his fourth career start.
Facing one of the top defenses in the country, Grier opened the game 17 of 20 for 229 yards and four touchdowns — all in the first half. He found Demarcus Robinson streaking down the seam for a 36-yard touchdown to jump-start the scoring, and Florida quickly added another touchdown (a 2-yard reception by Jake McGee) after an Ole Miss fumble deep in its own territory.
“He’s responded great,” McGee said of Grier’s performance. “That’s what he’s supposed to do. I don’t really care if he’s sick or not. His job is to throw the ball off, hand the ball off. He can cough when he gets home.”
In the second quarter, Brandon Powell dashed 77 yards to the house on a third-down reception, and Antonio Callaway added a 15-yard touchdown to cap a 91-yard drive just before halftime. Grier was a perfect 8 of 8 for 68 yards, including the capper to the former Miami Booker T. Washington standout.
The Gators sprinted to a 25-0 lead and never looked back, as The Swamp transformed into its house of horrors of old.
It was deafening. It was a crazy. It affected the Rebels.
Ole Miss, which won at Alabama two weeks ago, looked nothing like a top-5 team, struggling with pass protection, fumbles, busted assignments and lots of missed tackles.
“Our defense played their tails off,” McElwain said. “We had a great plan, and the guys executed.”
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was harassed all night, as the SEC’s leading passer was held to 259 yards on 40 attempts by Florida’s violent, unrelenting and swarming defense.
Led by Antonio Morrison, Jon Bullard & Co., the Gators’ front seven dominated the game. They sacked Kelly four times, stoned Ole Miss five consecutive plays inside the 2-yard line, had 11 tackles for loss, forced four turnovers and held the nation’s second-most potent offense (54.8 points per game) to just 10 points and a season-low 328 yards.
Florida’s vaunted secondary was impressive, too, as cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor took turns shutting down All-American wideout Laquon Treadwell (five for 42 yards). Not to be outdone, Florida’s All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III added a fourth-quarter interception to set up another score.
“We just want to go out and show the world who was the best,” Bullard said. “We did that.
The Rebels were out of sync from the start, with six negative plays and just seven first downs in their first five series.
It would only snowball from there, as Florida executed its game plan perfectly. McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier kept Ole Miss’ tenacious defensive line off balance with motions, play action and a lot of easy reads for Grier. The Gators’ inexperienced offensive line managed to hold its own against Robert Nkemdiche, too.
“Bit by bit these guys are growing up,” McElwain said. “That was a good football team we beat. Our guys took it to them.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Miami native Jordan Cronkrite, a freshman tailback, scored a one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. UF wore all-orange uniforms for the second time this season.
▪ Jorge Powell, a walk-on from Belen Jesuit Prep, drilled a 31-yard kick in his first career attempt. He added a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
▪ Robinson caught eight passes for 98 yards.
▪ Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris returned from his one-game suspension. Harris’ only action was a failed gimmicky play on a two-point conversion attempt.
▪ Former All-SEC defensive tackle Dominique Easley served as Florida’s honorary “Mr. Two Bits.”
▪ Florida celebrated the 50th anniversary of Gatorade this week, and recognized Phoebe Cade during the game. Phoebe’s father, Dr. Robert Cade, invented the famous sports drink in 1965 and died in 2007.
▪ Scouts from the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins were in attendance.