It might not have been pretty, actually, it was down right frightening for the Gators Nation, but a win is still a win and they all still count the same in the standings. Here are a dozen observations from Florida's 27-20 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday in the Swamp.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
The one consistent performer for Florida's offense on Saturday was redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed, who once again proved to be a match-up nightmare and did work against Louisiana-Lafayette's linebackers. Reed posted career-highs in receptions (five) and yards (85) and even matched a career-long with a 39-yard catch. He made two big plays for the Gators that eventually resulted in 10 points.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins not only had the game-sealing touchdown on a punt block recovery, he also led Florida defensively with seven tackles (all solo). He did a solid job in coverage and containment throughout the game, got his hands on another ball and registered a quarterback hurry as well. A good all-around day for Jenkins, especially considering he has missed a good amount of time with a variety of injuries this season.
UNSUNG HERO OF THE GAME
It is easy to dismiss field goals as important, especially when a kicker is as consistent as redshirt senior Caleb Sturgis, but he came through when the offense failed and kept the Gators in the game. His two makes gave him 17 total on the season, moving him within four of a tie with Jeff Chandler for the school record of 67 in a career. Sturgis is also just six away from tying the school single-season record of 23, which was set by Bobby Raymond.
STAT LINE OF THE GAME
4-of-14…which represents Florida's offensive success on third down. The Gators are a paltry 52-of-142 (36.6 percent) this season on third down, an incredible disappointment considering it was a big area of emphasis in the off-season. The only reason it is not affecting the team more is because of UF's defense, which held ULL to 2-of-12 on third down and is holding opponents to 38-of-144 (26.4 percent) in such situations this season.
ON THE RISE
Sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who may very well be the story of the season for Florida. After struggling with inconsistency during his freshman season, Purifoy has really turned things on in his second year with the team. His punt block late in the fourth quarter helped seal the win for Florida and was his second blocked kick in as many weeks. As head coach Will Muschamp likes to say, the arrow is definitely trending upward on Puriofy.
ON THE BUBBLE
A MASH unit it may be, but the Gators' offensive line has been pitiful as of late. Not only is it struggling in the one area it succeeded mightily this season (run blocking), it is doing a terrible job in pass protection, which has been leaving sophomore quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett open to hard hits by the opposing defenses. The line is committing dozens of other unforced errors, which Muschamp promised to address in a big way during practice this week.
The entire game. Who would have thought that Florida would be in a dog fight with a Louisiana-Lafayette team, even if it did take down the national darling Louisiana-Monroe earlier this season? The fact that UF was down at any point in the game would have been a shocker, let alone the fact that it was trailing late into the fourth quarter and needed a pair of touchdowns in a span of minutes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Gators' defense has allowed just two teams to reach the 20-point plateau this season - Tennessee and Louisiana-Lafayette. Forget for a moment how terrible the Volunteers are, at least that game was on the road against a quarterback that had a lot of national acclaim heading into the season. Saturday's showing from the defense - through the vast majority of the game up until the final few minutes - was pitiful. Granted, the punt block return by ULL was not the defense's fault, but UF still allowed the visitors to drive down the field late in the contest. The Ragin' Cajuns had a nine-play, 77-yard touchdown drive midway through the third quarter and used a 12-play, 77-yard drive to add a field goal early in the fourth quarter and score 17 unanswered points.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Purifoy's block and Jenkins's return made the crowd and sideline go ballistic, as junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd put it. The play was so enthralling that junior safety De'Ante Saunders did not know what to do except slap Purifoy in the helmet six times in the back of the end zone after the score. Junior Buck LB Ronald Powell, wearing his jersey but obviously unable to play, grabbed Purifoy by the helmet to praise him and then slugged him in the gut twice in celebration. If Florida goes on to win its next two games and conclude the regular season undefeated, this may very well have been the play of the year, not just the game.
THE GOOD NEWS
THE BAD NEWS
The Gators came really, really close to losing to a Sun Belt team and being taken down by a non-automatic qualifier for the first time since 1988 (49-0). Though the tight win did not affect Florida in the top 25 rankings and will not in the BCS standings, it will be remembered at the conclusion of the regular season if UF is indeed up for a BCS at-large bid.
A LOOK AHEAD
Florida will play its second-straight game against a non-conference opponent when the team hosts Jacksonville State in a pay-per-view-only contest next Saturday at 1 p.m. The Gators conclude the regular season with three-straight non-conference games due to the temporary schedule that was put in place when the SEC expanded to 14 teams.