There are hundreds of classic moments in Florida Gators history and it would be impossible to relive them all in detail. In an effort to revisit some of our favorites though, we take an accelerated trip in this portion of the Florida Flashback Series.
BY: KASSIDY HILL
During a dismal 2014 season in which the Gators ended 7-5 and head coach Will Muschamp was fired following a South Carolina loss, one of the few bright spots was a 38-20 thumping of rival No. 9 Georgia…and one of those Bulldog touchdowns to make it somewhat respectable came in garbage time with 0:03 left. Quarterback Treon Harris, leading a double-digit underdog UF, had a 50% completion rate; he threw six passes and completed three for 27 yards. On the other side Georgia’s roster boasted Nick Chubb and Sony Michel…but it was Florida’s running backs that shined that night. Kelvin Taylor rushed for 200 yards (197 net) and Matt Jones was right behind him with 193 (192 net). They each had two touchdowns. The deluge began with a Mike McNeely fake field goal, touchdown run and we’ll get to that play. The day though was about Taylor and Jones, a shining moment for two backs who had the talent but not the team. But that night, they ran over every one and into the history books. It’s the best same game performance by a Gators duo in Florida history.
The 2010 season was the first one PT—Post Tebow. As such there were some growing pains that took all decade to overcome. The 2010 Outback Bowl (on Jan. 1, 2011) even featured three different guys line up at quarterback: Jordan Reed, John Brantley and Trey Burton. As such it’s not hard to imagine that with a minute to go, the Nittany Lions were driving with a chance to win. PSU passer Matt McGloin had a wide open Derek Moye on the sideline. Black, who was in the middle of the field, turned and jetted, cutting of the pass, intercepting it and taking it back 80-yards for the nail in the coffin. For the kid who picked off Sam Bradford in the 2008 title game to give Tebow the ball back for the win, it was the perfect final play. And it set the tone for the first half of a decade that would set offensive highlights aside and lean on their defense.
The 2012 season had one of the best records in recent history, punctuated by some of the most heart stopping games. The regular season finale against rival No. 10 Florida State was no different. The No. 6 Gators scored their first touchdown of the day on a drive off a fumble recovery but the Seminoles bounced back and were leading 20-13 at the end of the 3rd quarter. Caleb Sturgis hit a field goal to pull it within four. The Noles—who already had four turnovers on the day—took over and with three quick plays, moved the chains. From his own 42-yard line, Manuel (in his final home game as a Nole) felt pressure and began to scramble. Lerentee McCray turned course of his man and came through the pocket with Manuel. He wrapped up the passer’s legs and Antonio Morrison—a freshman at the time—dove in to complete the sack, knocking the ball loose in the process. Morrison would become known as a madman but that hit was the first huge indiction of what was to come with the linebacker. Dominque Easley recovered the ball, Florida scored on the very next play…and each of the subsequent possessions. The three touchdowns following that fumble along with Manuel being knocked out of the game for a series meant the Gators finished with the 37-26 Top 10 win and the reverberations of that hit rang through the college football poll that season.
Since we’re already talking about sacking FSU quarterbacks, let’s keep the trend going. That 2012 game was the last time Florida would defeat FSU until 2018. Furthermore, the Gators went a decade before defeating the Seminoles in Gainesville again. The 2019 game featured Dan Mullen’s No. 8 Gators looking to end the decade with that sought after victory. The offense couldn’t miss all day, scoring on seven of their 10 drives. But the defense didn’t take that as an excuse to slack and linebacker Jon Greenard made sure that his one year as a Florida Gator would not be forgotten. Looking across the line at his former Louisville teammate, QB Jordan Travis, Greenard shot off the line of scrimmage like a rocket. By the time he made it into the pocket, there was no where for Travis to escape. NFL star Deacon Jones coined the term “sacking the quarterback,” describing it decimating the offense and their momentum the way someone would “sack” a city. It just stalls and deflates everything. As Greenard folded Travis into the ground and caused a fumble, in only the second quarter, you could see any bit of spark or life or hope leave the Florida State sideline. The Gators defense finished EIGHT sacks on the night, Greenard had 2.5 with a flourish and Florida won 40-17.
We’re clearly on a roll here, so let’s go back to the 2018 win over Florida State. The Noles had won five in a row and let Florida hear the trash talk after each and every one. In 2012, Matt Elam made turf angels in the middle of FSU’s field after the win. The next year, holding on to that, FSU players trotted around The Swamp with a gator head while quarterback Jameis Winston petted, slapped and showed little love to the taxidermed head. That continued every year after. It became such old hat, that it wasn’t even noticed in later years, but the gator head was still there and at least one FSU player found it after every win through 2017 to facetiously trot it around the field. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson didn’t forget. Following the 2018 win Chauncey first attempted to plant the Gator flag at mid-field. FSU coach Willie Taggert stopped him but still, there were five years worth of taunting to answer for and Gardner-Johnson wasn’t letting his Gators leave the field without some celebration of their own. While his teammates made turf angels in the endzone—a harken to Elam—Chauncey grabbed a, well, a…what’s the politically correct way to say this? He grabbed a relic of a severed head but instead of a gator head, it was one of a defeated Native American, presumably a Seminole. He hopped on the wall surrounding Ron Zook field and led the Gator fans in a chant that let every Nole player know the tables had turned, order had been restored and Florida was starting a different streak on that day.