Don’t write the obituary just yet.
On the day after Halloween, Will Muschamp rose from his hot-seat grave, as Florida inexplicably shocked No. 9 Georgia 38-20 in EverBank Field on Saturday.
The Gators (4-3, 3-3 SEC), despondent following three losses in four games, rallied behind their embattled head coach, playing inspired, physical football en route to a dominating effort against the Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2 SEC).
“Let me lift this thing off my back,” Muschamp said, emotionally, pointing to a giant invisible monkey after the game. “I’m really happy for our players. There’s nothing more fun to be around than a victorious locker room and seeing the joy on those guys’ faces.
“I’m extremely happy and proud for them, and happy for our fans to be able to enjoy this. I know how frustrating it is for our fans. I hear it. I get their e-mails. I’m just really happy for everyone in the organization to know we won in dominating fashion.”
With Muschamp’s job security on life alert, the Gators played with their hair on fire, scoring 31 unanswered points, sparked by Michael McNeely’s 21-yard dash on a fake field goal in the second quarter.
Then they never looked back.
In a call no one saw coming, Muschamp’s gusty fake call on 4th-and-9 electrified Florida, as UF strangled the game’s momentum the rest of the afternoon and snapped a three-game losing streak in the storied series with Georgia.
The Gators, who promised for two weeks they’d run the ball until the wheels fell off, controlled the line of scrimmage and ran wild against the nation’s 12th-ranked rush defense for 451 yards — the fifth-most in school history, and more than in Florida’s last three losses to UGA combined.
“Somebody got to buy us dinner tonight,” junior left tackle D.J. Humphries joked. “We were way tougher than they were. Then we just knocked the fight out of them.”
After breaking so many negative records in the past two seasons, Muschamp finally flipped the script.
Kelvin Taylor — in the stadium his dad, Fred, starred in the NFL — rushed for 197 yards and two scores, and junior tailback Matt Jones added 192 yards and two scores. The dynamic duo became the first two players in UF history with at least 190 rushing yards in the same game.
“We needed this bad,” Jones said. “We came into this game with a head full of steam, knowing they beat us three times in a row, and we needed a win for [Muschamp], too. We want to go to a bowl game, so we really needed this win.”
The performance was particularly noteworthy for Taylor, who’s been plagued by inconsistencies and who tallied just 21 carries for 64 yards in the last month. The sophomore flashed his elusiveness, vision and speed against UGA’s imposing front-seven.
“This was special,” Taylor said. “We knew we were going to pound them and pound them, and [we] were going to keep pounding them. We weren’t going to be denied.”
Florida’s one-dimensional approach didn’t just work, it demoralized UGA. And the Bulldogs simply couldn’t stop it.
“I love to drive people against their will,” senior center Max Garcia said.
Freshman quarterback Treon Harris — in his first career start — completed just 3 of 6 passes for 27 yards, and threw the ball just one time in the second half. Harris was hardly special, but the former Miami Booker T. Washington star did not commit any egregious errors that plagued former starter Jeff Driskel.
“I think we have to continue to develop in the throwing game,” Muschamp said. “We didn’t tonight because we didn’t need to, but we’re going to have to down the road, there’s no question.”
Georgia jumped out to a 7-0 lead, as freshman tailback Nick Chubb rumbled for a 101 yards in the first quarter. But the Bulldogs failed to convert several short third downs, and the Gators ultimately snatched the game’s momentum on the special teams play.
“I’m just a risky guy,” Muschamp quipped. “Our team got charged up a little bit on the fake field goal. I think they understood the aggressiveness we were approaching the game with as a staff.”
Muschamp’s magical gamble seemed to flip Florida’s normally dreadful fortune. The self-inflicted woes (mostly) disappeared.
The Gators muffed a punt, but they recovered the football. UF benefited several missed calls (holding, roughing the punter), while the Bulldogs tailback fumbled for the first time all season.
“I don’t think they’re going to induct me into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame or anything,” Muschamp said. “But I’m really happy today.”