BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Gators capped the Will Muschamp Era with a fitting finale, winning their first bowl game since 2011.
Florida knocked off East Carolina 28-20 in the Birmingham Bowl, finishing 2014 with a winning record (7-5).
OFFENSE – C
Muschamp was no longer around, but Florida’s offense didn’t look much different … except for the personnel. Fourth-string tailback Adam Lane had a breakout performance (109 yards, first-career touchdown) and little-used sophomore wideout Ahmad Fulwood scored an 86-yard touchdown on a quick screen -- the team’s most explosive play since 2011.
But Florida’s offense sputtered throughout, as freshman quarterback Treon Harris continued his inconsistent play (5-of-11 for 123 yards, two scores and a pick) and the offense coughed up the football three times.
Jeff Driskel, in relief of Harris, managed the Gators to a victory, but he didn’t create any explosive plays.
DEFENSE – B
ECU ran 101 plays and tallied 536 yards, 427 through the air, but the Pirates’ potent scoring attack was stymied by Florida’s suffocating red zone defense.
The Gators forced three turnovers (and another fumble that wasn’t recovered) -- two at the goal line. ECU scored touchdowns on just 2-of-7 trips inside the 20-yard line.
The NCAA’s all-time receptions leader Justin Hardy didn’t disappoint (11 catches, 160 yards and a score), but Gators All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III made the game-winning interception matched up against Hardy with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. had a terrific going away party, recording three sacks and three additional quarterback hurries. UF defensive backs Brian Poole (interception, forced fumble, recovery) and Marcus Maye (team-leading seven tackles, two PBUs) delivered solid performances, too.
SPECIAL TEAMS – C
Florida’s kickoff coverage was decent, and penalties negated a couple returns that gave the Gators poor field position.
Brandon Powell did tally a nice 37-yarder, but the Gators definitely missed Andre Debose’s skills.
Senior punter Kyle Christy was solid but hardly spectacular in his final game at Florida (42.9 yards on eight punts).
OVERALL – B
Florida made just enough plays to win the game, as ECU self-destructed with some woeful turnovers in the red zone.
The Gators desperately wanted (and needed) to usher in a new era with some momentum and positive vibes, and they will.
Florida promised to play hard and motivated, and the staff and players deserve kudos for delivering a winning performance despite so many distractions over the last six weeks.
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