Will Muschamp never dreamed Saturday would be his final game in The Swamp.
Despite the rain and the wind and the muted atmosphere, Muschamp — fired last Sunday as Florida’s coach — brought a little sunshine to Gator fans in a bittersweet farewell.
Florida routed Eastern Kentucky 52-3, snapping a three-game home skid and sending Muschamp and 22 seniors out on a high note.
“I’m really proud of our players and the how they handled the week and working through all the stuff,” Muschamp said. “The fun’s in winning. We had a bunch of fun in Jacksonville. The fun’s in winning games, that’s the bottom line.”
Muschamp didn’t win enough to stay at Florida (6-4), but Saturday’s result was enough to make UF eligible for a bowl game.
Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will serve as the team’s interim replacement, as Muschamp will coach his final game next weekend at No.2 Florida State.
After a week’s worth of distractions and disappointment, the players rallied around their dismissed coach and delivered a solid performance.
“We preached the whole week to send the seniors out, and also coach Muschamp. This was his last one in The Swamp,” said junior defensive end Jon Bullard, who wore eye black inscribed with “Muschamp.” “We wanted the locker room to be a good vibe after the game, and it was. Everybody locked in this week. We could’ve easily lost our emotions and just did anything.”
It wasn’t always pretty. It wasn’t always effective. Still, UF mauled a Football Championship Subdivision foe one year after it was humiliated at home against Georgia Southern.
“We wanted to go out and dominate them and win pretty easily, impose our will on the other team,” senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “We did that [Saturday]. We sent out our coach the right way and us as seniors, we all left The Swamp with a big victory and our heads held high.”
EKU (9-3) was undermanned and undersized, resorting to gimmicks from the start. The Colonels faked a punt and a field goal, tried an onside kick and a pair of double reverse passes … and not a single trick play was successful.
The Colonels failed fake punt on their own 18-yard line set up Florida’s first touchdown, a 13-yard dash by sophomore tailback Kelvin Taylor.
Following a 51-yard field goal to cut the deficit to seven, the Colonels recovered an onside kick, but they were penalized for an illegal block and forced to kick again.
One play later, former Booker T. Washington High star Treon Harris connected with senior wideout Quinton Dunbar for a 70-yard touchdown and the rout was on. Harris also hooked up with Demarcus Robinson for an 11-yard score, but the freshman quarterback injured his leg late in the second quarter and did not return.
Muschamp turned to former beleaguered starter Jeff Driskel, who delivered a highlight-filled performance in possibly his final game in The Swamp, too.
With nothing to lose, the Gators opened up the playbook and Driskel engineered an explosive Air Raid attack.
The redshirt junior — a graduate student eligible to transfer immediately next season — had 164 yards passing, with three touchdowns in the air and another on the ground.
Florida’s two quarterbacks combined for 326 yards and five touchdowns.
Robinson had 137 yards receiving and two touchdowns, and Dunbar — also a former Miami Booker T. Washington standout — had a career-high 107 receiving yards and two scores.
Florida registered multiple 100-plus-yards receivers in the same game for the first time in the Muschamp era.
“I’ve waited four years for that,” Muschamp said, jokingly. “We missed several [deep shots] last week, and it killed us [against South Carolina]. I think we only missed one in the game, if I remember right, so that’s good.”
The Gators defense suffocated the overmatched Colonels all afternoon (three sacks, nine tackles for loss), but Florida sputtered offensively until after halftime.
Both teams turned to backups in the second half — especially EKU in lieu of next week’s FCS playoffs — and the floodgates opened.
The Colonels actually had a chance to make it a game midway through the second quarter. Harris botched a snap deep in Florida’s territory, but EMU walked away with zero points after another series of failed gimmicks.
“[EMU] uses a new bag of tricks every single game,” Muschamp said. “We just told our guys be ready for whatever comes up. There’s going to be some things we’re not prepared for but you’re going to have to adjust on the fly and understand that. … I was pleased with how we responded to those deals.”