STARKVILLE, Miss. — Maybe Florida fans are just going to have to get used to the fact that this isn't the 2008 national championship team.
Wins won't come very easily, and blowouts possibly not at all.
But the victories, for now, are still coming. And in their quest for a second straight national championship, that's what matters most for the Gators.
No. 2 Florida extended its win streak to a national-high 17 games with a 29-19 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday night in front of a record crowd of 57,178 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
The Gators (7-0, 5-0 SEC) overcame more struggles in the red zone and two interceptions by quarterback Tim Tebow that Mississippi State (3-5, 1-3) returned for touchdowns.
"Here's what's important with all due respect to those guys (pointing to the visiting locker room)," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "You're 7-0, and you're playing really good defense and you ran the ball for 249.
"So we're all good. We've just got to get a lot better. The main thing is we're 7-0."
Saturday night's game was the first meeting between former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen and Meyer — the first meeting between Meyer and any of his former assistants, for that matter.
And Mullen didn't hesitate to pull out all of the stops in an effort to win, including switching quarterbacks for a brief time with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter — and some tricks.
With 3:19 gone in the second half and trailing by three, Mississippi State faced fourth and 2 on its 25. It called a fake punt.
But Robert Elliott slipped and fell as he headed toward open space, giving the Gators possession at the 22.
Six plays later, Chris Rainey (12 carries, 90 yards) scored on an 8-yard run. The subsequent missed extra point left Florida ahead 22-13.
It was the Gators' first touchdown of the game inside the red zone, where they struggled badly.
In the first half, Florida had 13 plays spanning four series inside the red zone. It was 0-for-3 passing, gained 5 yards rushing, missed a field goal, made two field goals and threw an interception.
"Our red zone offense right now is an issue," Meyer said. "We'll start working on that on the way home. I didn't coach very well. I put Tim in some bad situations in the red zone."
Tebow, who was 12-of-22 for 127 yards and 88 rushing yards, scored on a 26-yard run 1:44 into the second quarter to tie former Georgia All-American Herschel Walker for SEC career rushing touchdowns.
Mississippi State gained 237 total yards in the game but was 2-of-12 on third-down conversions and had just 92 rushing yards on 35 attempts. Anthony Dixon, who entered third in the SEC at 116 yards per game, had just 53.
The defense also helped Florida put the game out of reach. Dustin Doe intercepted a pass (deflected by fellow linebacker Brandon Hicks) and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown, giving the Gators a 29-13 lead with 8:25 remaining in the game. Mississippi State closed the gap with a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Johnthan Banks.
Banks also returned an interception 100 yards with 27 seconds remaining after Tebow's pass was deflected off defensive back Corey Broomfield. At the time, the Gators had it first and goal at the 7 line following Rainey's blocked punt.
"I am really, really proud of our guys in the way they fought and battled," Mullen said. "I thought our defense gave a heck of an effort against, as everyone knows, a really talented team. Our defense went and battled and did a really good job in the red zone."
The close game continued a trend for Florida. Throw out a 41-7 win over Kentucky, and its SEC wins have come by an average of 8.3 points.
"We're pressing like crazy," Meyer said. "The head coach wants to score so bad. I'm not used to this. And if I'm not used to this, the guys in the locker room aren't used to this. But we'll get this straightened out."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3389.