In the end there were too many mistakes for Florida State to overcome.
From missed opportunities to turnovers, Florida State's blunders helped No. 4 Florida come away with a wild 37-26 win at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday night.
It was a game of runs - Florida owned the first half, jumping out to an early 13-0 lead. But FSU answered with the next 20 points for a 20-13 lead after three quarters. In the fourth quarter UF responded with 24 points as it pulled away for the victory.
The loss snapped FSU's two-game win streak in the series and gave head coach Jimbo Fisher his first loss in a rivalry game as FSU's head coach.
EJ Manuel finished the game 18 of 33 for 182 yards with three interceptions and a lost fumble. He threw for a touchdown and ran for two more on the ground.
"Played a heck of a third quarter to battle back and then played a very poor fourth quarter," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "And in the end the key to me - I'll have to look at the film and evaluate - but the two big things (five) turnovers, which is always critical in those games and I think the ability for us not to be able to run the ball as consistent as we wanted to and their ability to run the football and control the line of scrimmage up front."
After battling back from a the 13-0 hole, FSU (10-2, 7-1 ACC) had a chance to potentially put Florida (11-1, 7-1 ACC) away with 1:46 left in the third quarter. The Seminoles led 20-13 and UF was facing a 3rd-and-14 from its own 30.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel connected with tight end Jordan Reed on a screen up the middle for a gain of 21. The play kept the drive alive and set up a 32-yard field goal to make it 20-16.
We weren't expecting it and it caught us off guard," said defensive tackle Everett Dawkins. "They took it and ran from there with it."
After the field goal UF took control of the game for good.
On FSU's next drive, Manuel was hit hard in the head by Antonio Morrison on a first-down scramble. The collision not only knocked the fifth-year senior out of the game for the ensuing series, but it also knocked the ball loose and Dominique Easley recovered it.
One play later Florida regained the lead with a 37-yard touchdown run by Mike Gillislee for a 23-20 lead. Gillislee finished the game with a game-high 140 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Florida as a team finished the game with 244 yards rushing on 47 carries. Conversely, FSU had just 112 yards rushing in the game as UF controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"They had a good gameplan," said defensive end Bjoern Werner, who was FSU's defensive standout with 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. "They just used great technique. They had the double-team on you, but the way they did it I've never seen it before."
Werner led the Seminoles' charge in the second half. FSU scored on its second possession of the half on a six-yard pass from Manuel to Nick O'Leary on 25-yard drive set up by a big defensive series and a nice punt return by Kenny Shaw.
After the kickoff, Werner forced and recovered a Driskel fumble at the UF 26. After a pair of Gator penalties, Manuel ran it in for a 1-yard score and a 17-13 lead.
FSU looked to be in control after a 53-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins. But Florida answered as Driskel connected with Reed, and Manuel fumbled on the ensuing drive.
"That game was all momentum," Fisher said. "If you look at the game, they started off good and then got the big pick and controlled the first half back and forth and then we get it coming out the second, we get that little drive before half and are able to get three points, get some momentum coming out the second half and we control the game. Then we had the momentum in the third quarter and then that hit changed the momentum back."
The Seminoles are hoping that the lost momentum doesn't carry over to next week, as they have just six days to put the UF game behind it and prepare for Georgia Tech (6-6. 5-3 ACC) and its triple option. FSU will face the Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship game on December 1 at 8 p.m.
"The Florida game is over with," Dawkins said. "I know a lot of people are disappointed, we're disappointed in ourselves. The seniors, we lost our last home game at Doak Campbell Stadium but I think we've just got to keep on moving forward. We've got Georgia Tech next and we've got an opportunity to do something great still."