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SIMPLY PUT, A WIN

Like some of their other victories, the Gators do just enough to remain unbeaten.

Maybe Florida fans are just going to have to get used to this fact: This isn't the 2008 national championship team.

Wins won't come easily, and blowouts, possibly not at all.

But the wins have come. And, for now, they are still coming.

And coach Urban Meyer insists that's what matters most.

In front of a record crowd of 57,178 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, No. 2 Florida defeated Mississippi State 29-19 Saturday night.

In extending the nation's longest win streak to 17 games, the Gators (7-0, 5-0 SEC) overcame more struggles in the red zone and two interceptions by Tim Tebow that Mississippi State (3-5, 1-3) returned for touchdowns. (Tebow, however, did score on a 26-yard run.)

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.

The Gators said all last week they'd have to be extra sharp because of Mullen's vast knowledge of what they do well - and what they struggle with.

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 left in the third quarter and throwing in a little trickery.

Trailing by three 3:19 into the second half, Mississippi State faced fourth and 2 from its 25. It ran a fake punt. But Robert Elliott slipped and fell trying to make a cut toward open space, giving the Gators possession at the 22.

Six plays later, Chris Rainey scored on an 8-yard run, and the subsequent missed extra point left Florida up 22-13.

It was their first touchdown of the game inside the red zone.

Defense helped Florida put the game out of reach. Linebacker Dustin Doe intercepted a pass (deflected by 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 just before halftime with a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive back Jonathan Banks - his second of the night.

The Gators led 13-10 at halftime but went into the locker room stunned and frustrated after that late touchdown by the Bulldogs.

Florida held Mississippi State to three-and-out four consecutive times to end the first half and five out of six times overall in the first half. The Bulldogs were 0-for-5 on third-down conversions, and Florida's defense gave up just 2 yards in the second quarter and 74 total.

And with one minute remaining in the half, Rainey blocked a punt by Heath Hutchins, giving Florida first and goal at the 7.

Three plays later, instead of scoring, the Gators were scored upon.

Tebow's pass deflected off defensive back Corey Broomfield into the hands of Banks, who returned it 100 yards for a touchdown with 27 seconds remaining in the first half. And the teams scuffled before heading to the locker room for halftime.

For the second straight game, the Gators struggled badly inside the red zone. In the first half, Florida had 13 plays inside the Mississippi State 20. But it was 0-for-3 passing, gained 5 yards rushing, missed one field goal, made one field goal and threw an interception.

Florida has scored only seven touchdowns in 25 trips to the red zone against SEC opponents this season.

The Gators picked up their eighth interception of the season when Tyson Lee's pass was deflected into the hands of linebacker and former Middleton High standout A.J. Jones on the game's opening drive.

But Florida was unable to capitalize. Sophomore Caleb Sturgis missed a 37-yard field goal 2:43 into the game.

Mississippi State wasted no time taking advantage of the Gators' miscue. The Bulldogs put together a 10-play, 54-yard drive that ended with a 43-yard field goal by Derek DePasquale and gave them a 3-0 lead 5:55 into the game.

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3389.

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