TALLAHASSEE — After coach Will Muschamp walked off the field last season following Florida's regular-season finale — a double-digit home loss to archrival Florida State — he publicly questioned the toughness of his team and the direction his program had taken.
On Saturday afternoon, facing the Seminoles for the second time, Muschamp had no questions about the Gators' toughness — or where the program is headed.
No. 6 Florida forced a season-high five turnovers and rallied in the fourth quarter for a 37-26 victory over the No. 10 Seminoles in front of 83,429 at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Gators entered No. 4 in the BCS and will play in a BCS game if they remain among the top four.
Florida (11-1) ended a two-game losing streak to FSU (10-2), won 11 regular-season games for just the fifth time and moved to 1-5-1 at Doak Campbell when both were ranked in the Top 10.
Florida struggled offensively all season but scored 24 fourth-quarter points against a defense that entered No. 1 overall in Division I-A for its eighth come-from-behind win of the season.
"Our guys understand it's about 60 minutes and it's about how you continue to play and perform," said Muschamp, whose team went 7-6 last season. "We've really challenged our football team on winning the fourth quarter; getting in those games and those situations and performing well when the game is on the line."
There was a point when it appeared the Seminoles would be boasting of a comeback. Down 13-3 after getting Dustin Hopkins' 50-yard field goal on the first half's final play, they outscored the Gators 20-0 to take a 20-13 lead at the end of the third quarter.
"That game was all momentum," said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, whose team faces Georgia Tech this Saturday at the ACC title game in Charlotte, N.C.
"They started off good, and they controlled the first downs. And we got that little drive before the half to get us three points, and we have a little momentum. In the third quarter, we changed it, and they got the momentum back in the fourth quarter."
The fourth quarter was all Florida. Caleb Sturgis hit a 32-yard field goal to make it 20-16. On the ensuing possession, linebacker Antonio Morrison forced a fumble by quarterback EJ Manuel, which was recovered by end Dominique Easley. One play later, senior Mike Gillislee ran 37 yards to give the Gators a 23-20 lead.
"My offensive line did a great job at blocking, and all I needed was a little seam," said Gillislee, who became just the eighth Gator to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. "I saw it. I just mashed the gas, and I hit it."
Manuel (18-of-33 for 182 yards, three interceptions) sustained an abdominal injury on the fumble and missed a series.
The Gators did not trail again. Gillislee sustained a rib injury with 9:07 left, but former Armwood High standout Matt Jones took over and ran for 81 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown.
FSU entered as the No. 1 rushing defense in I-A at 70.6 yards per game. But UF had 244, the fourth team this season to rush for more than 100 against FSU.
"We weren't expecting that to happen," defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "I don't know what happened. But we're going to get it fixed. There's no way that Florida State's defense is going to let that happen again."
Florida's Jeff Driskel, returning after spraining his right ankle Nov. 10, was 15-of-23 for 147 yards and one touchdown.
"In a game like this, the little ankle injury can't be an issue," Driskel said. "You have to be able to play through that. A little ankle sprain wasn't going to hold me out of a game like this."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]