GAINESVILLE — They had seen firsthand the sadness of watching seniors walk off their homefield for the final time with the scoreboard reflecting a loss. So the members of the Florida Gator 2012 senior class took matters into their own hands to ensure their fate would be different.
The No. 7 Gators earned a 23-0 win over I-AA Jacksonville State on Saturday afternoon in front of 82,691 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with every point scored by a senior: an interception return from linebacker Jon Bostic, a run from Mike Gillislee and three field goals and two extra points from Caleb Sturgis.
Gillislee had 20 carries for 122 yards and needs just 36 yards to hit 1,000 this season.
"I want to thank the seniors and the job they've done at the University of Florida," coach Will Muschamp said. "I really appreciate them; going through a coaching change, going through a 7-6 campaign, questioning a rookie coach and his staff and where we were headed with the program.
"They certainly could have walked the plank on us but never did."
They left Florida Field having fulfilled a promise made to each other at the end of last season — which included a 21-7 loss to Florida State in the home finale — go undefeated at home and get the program back on track.
"That's great to see," senior receiver Frankie Hammond said. "All this has been on us. We've been kind of carrying this team and keeping everybody together. So to finish out like that is something very positive. A lot of guys matured, grew up and started taking accountability for each other."
All season, Muschamp has insisted if anything happened to starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett would be able to take over just fine. Brissett was 14-of-22 for 154 yards, subbing for the injured Driskel (right ankle sprain).
"I played pretty well, and we came out with a win," Brissett said. "Especially on Senior Day, to star with some of the close people that I look up to in their last game in the Swamp, it really meant a lot."
As it has for the majority of the season, the Gators (10-1) thrived thanks to a stellar defensive performance. Jacksonville State (6-5) opened the game with a 76-yard catch-and-run by Kevyn Cooper. But the Gators held on three plays, and the Gamecocks missed a 25-yard field goal.
Florida forced four straight three-and-outs to open the second half and in the final quarter forced four punts and allowed just 53 yards in notching the shutout, the first time in 12 years the Gamecocks have been held scoreless. The Gators gave up just 8.1 points per game at home this season.
But in the thrill of victory, the reality still hung in the air: The Gators have to play better Saturday on offense when facing the Seminoles, who entered this weekend with the No. 1 overall defense in Division I-A.
UF gained 356 yards but was 2-of-11 on third down and had to settle for field goals three times in the red zone (a fourth was blocked). Asked if the Gators can defeat FSU with that kind of performance, Muschamp said, "No."
"We need to get better," he said. "We need to get more consistent. There's no question (FSU has) done a really good job recruiting defensive players. (Coordinator) Mark Stoops does an outstanding job with their defense. They've played well all year, and they played well last year.
"We need to get more production offensively. More than anything, we need to be more consistent offensively. We can't continue to self-inflict wounds on ourselves with penalties and different mistakes we make."