Will Muschamp came into Doak Campbell Stadium hoping for a sweet sendoff.
Instead, his Florida farewell tour ended with an all-too-familiar recurring nightmare.
Florida State hardly looked like the top-ranked team in the country Saturday, but Florida looked exactly like the motivated but schizophrenic and undisciplined team it has been during Muschamp’s bumpy four-year tenure.
The Seminoles dodged another upset bid with a 24-19 victory, as the Gators were unable to take advantage of five turnovers — including four Jameis Winston interceptions — and excellent field position.
“We’ve had our opportunities. You look at two other games where we had the game in hand and had our opportunities to get it done, and we didn’t get it done,” Muschamp said. “It falls on my shoulders, and that’s why they’re going to be looking for a coach.”
It was the same story for Florida, just a different day.
After blowing games against LSU and South Carolina earlier this season, the Gators gifted the Seminoles their 28th consecutive win with a gaffe-riddled collapse few didn’t see coming.
UF played aggressive, physical defense to open the heated rivalry game, but its first four possessions inside FSU territory netted just nine points.
Then Florida imploded.
Winston threw his third interception of the first quarter, handing UF the football at the 9-yard-line in prime position to really put pressure on the Seminoles.
But the game’s momentum flipped instantly, as senior tight end Tevin Westrbrook’s drop turned into a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown for FSU.
The Gators couldn’t gain any (consistent) traction offensively, settling for four field goals on six attempts.
Then, trailing by five with three minutes remaining, their late-game comeback was foiled by curious play calling (constant deep shots) and freshman quarterback Treon Harris’ inaccuracy.
UF played with reckless abandon (10 penalties for 105 yards), and its continued offensive ineptitude (4.3 yards per play) allowed FSU to hang around.
In fact — despite dominating field position — Florida’s longest (and only) touchdown drive was a single play.
“It’s really tough just knowing we attempted six field goals,” senior center Max Garcia said. “That’s certainly not what we wanted to do as an offense. As an offensive line, we want to put the game in our hands and score touchdowns. But we had to settle for field goals, and that ended up hurting us.”
Muschamp’s tenure has been defined by “what ifs,” and his 20th loss at Florida was no different. Former much-maligned kicker Austin Hardin was a perfect 4 for 4 to start the game only to miss his next two kicks.
Defensive back Brian Poole had a ridiculous, one-handed interception in the third quarter, but the junior somehow didn’t turn the pick into a pick-six and then the Gators promptly went backward with 30 yards of penalties and missed the ensuing field goal.
In the end, Saturday was the Muschamp era in a nutshell.