The Florida Gators were supposed to chomp the Florida Atlantic Owls to bits.
No. 8 UF was a 31-point favorite, the SEC East champs and a team positioned for a potential College Football Playoff push.
Instead, Charlie Partridge’s Owls (2-9) refused to even be caged, as FAU nearly pulled off a shocking upset in The Swamp on Saturday.
Florida listlessly squeaked past FAU 20-14 in overtime, giving first-year coach Jim McElwain a school-record 10 wins in his inaugural season.
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“That team that came in here and played their tails off. Give them all the credit there is,” McElwain said. “They beat us to every punch up front. They had more energy. They played the way the game should be played — physical, point of attack and beat the heck out of us. That’s just the way it was. … But figuring out a way to win, that’s what it’s all about.”
Florida senior tight end Jake McGee eluded two defenders on a misdirection, throwback play from quarterback Treon Harris, scoring the game-winning touchdown from 13 yards out.
“I get made fun of the most about my lack of mobility and juking people,” McGee said. “But I made it work today. It happened at a good time, and we were able to sneak out of there with a win.”
Austin Hardin, who missed two short field goals earlier in the game, had the point-after attempt blocked, breathing new life into the Owls.
FAU faced first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, but the Gators’ swarming defense suffocated the Owls’ upset hopes.
The Gators (10-1) avoided disaster in a torrential downpour, recording a sack and three consecutive incompletions to end the game — including two pass breakups by senior Brian Poole that could have been called pass interference.
“I’m really proud of the resiliency of our football team,” Partridge said. “I really had some visions about me standing here at the podium with a victory."
That nearly happened.
Both teams were scoreless at halftime, but Florida finally got on the board early in the third quarter after a familiar name had a costly fumble in The Swamp.
FAU’s Jason Driskel, younger brother of much-maligned former UF quarterback Jeff Driskel, was stripped-sacked by linebacker Antonio Morrison, and Florida returned the ball 48 yards to the 2.
Kelvin Taylor then put UF on the board with a 1-yard touchdown. A short time later, Harris connected with freshman sensation Antonio Callaway for a 53-yard strike-and-score and order appeared restored.
Only it wasn’t.
FAU, 0-16 all-time against Top 25 foes, rallied immediately, as quarterback Jaquez Johnson marched the Owls 75 yards to cut deficit in half after a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kalib Woods.
The teams then traded miscues (a Harris interception in the end zone and a pair of FAU turnovers) before the Owls stunned a soaked crowd midway through the fourth quarter.
Junior defensive end Trey Hendrickson tied the school record for sacks in a career (16) with a monster hit on Harris, forcing a fumble that was recovered in the end zone to tie the game at 14-all.
Harris had a miserable afternoon, as the former Miami Booker T. Washington product was under relentless pressure all day. He finished the game just 8 of 17 for 122 yards. Harris had the two touchdown passes but also had an interception and the fumble that led to the tying score.
Against the nation’s 92nd-ranked defense, UF gained just 252 total yards — 69 in the first half. The running game never got going (2.9 per rush), the offensive line continued to regress (five sacks allowed) and the Gators were brutal on third down (2 of 13).
“I don’t think anybody on that side of the ball should be real happy with how they’ve played,” McElwain said.
Meanwhile, Florida’s dominant defense turned into the the walking wounded.
Already without standout pass rusher Alex McCalister, end Jordan Sherit and tackles Joey Ivie and Caleb Brantley, all-world cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III exited the game with an illness and Morrison and Taven Bryan got banged up, too. Even star defensive tackle Jon Bullard sustained an injury scare.
Still, UF’s defense (five sacks, two takeaways) coupled with terrific punting by Johnny Townsend (six punts inside the 20-yard line) allowed the Gators to avoid the cataclysmic loss.