Gators Survive Owls

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Just enough offense and another strong defensive effort was enough to help to help No. 8 Florida earn its 10th win of the year. Barely.

It was yet another example of two glaring weaknesses -- in the offensive line and kicking game.

Florida was able to overcome both. The Gators (10-1) needed a touchdown pass from Treon Harris to Jake McGee in overtime to turn back upset-minded Florida Atlantic 20-14 on Saturday.

It wasn't expected to be nearly that close. The Gators were 31-point favorites against an FAU team that had won just twice in 10 games this season and had never beaten an AP-ranked team.

Gators coach Jim McElwain became the first coach in school history to win 10 games in his first year with the program, surpassing former greats Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, Galen Hall and Ray Graves, all of whom had nine in their initial year with the Gators.

But McElwain was thinking more about improving than any personal milestone.

"I am concerned about how [the offensive line] affects each other, not in a positive way but in a negative way," the Gators coach said. "Body language, energy. You watch it, they just mope around when something bad happens."

Kicker Austin Hardin missed field goals from 33 (hit the left upright) and 34 (wide right) yards out. What could have proved even more costly was his missed extra-point attempt after the Gators' touchdown in overtime. It was blocked by Nick Internicola.

Hardin got a reprieve when the Gators defense shut down the Owls after they reached the 9-yard line in the overtime session.

Florida is fortunate that its defense is good enough to pick up the slack. Defensive tackle Taven Bryan picked up a fumble by FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson at midfield and rumbled 48 yards to the 2-yard line. Kelvin Taylor scored on a 1-yard run two plays later for his 13th rushing touchdown this season, the most in a year by a Florida rusher since his father Fred Taylor had 13 in 1997.

Jonathan Bullard was credited with four tackles and a pass knockdown while applying pressure to Owls quarterbacks Johnson and Jason Driskel throughout the game. Bullard was helped off the field twice with injuries but each time returned to the lineup.

"Bullard had every opportunity to pull himself in that ballgame," McElwain said. "The guy, because he cares so much about the Gators, because he cares so much about his teammates, came back and played his tail off."

McGee was one of the few bright spots offensively for the Gators. He caught three passes for 36 yards, including the game winner. But the senior transfer from Virginia agreed that the offense has to get better.

"We struggled. We just weren't all together on it as a unit up front today," he said. "We have to really improve this week and have a big week of practice."

FAU coach Charlie Partridge lauded his team's effort against the Gators.

"We made Florida earn everything, and they had one big play, one big pass and essentially had a defensive score," Partridge said. "Our kids never wavered, and I am proud of that."

Other than a 53-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway for Florida's second touchdown, the Gators passing game struggled. Harris completed 8 of 17 passes for 122 yards, two scores and one interception. He was sacked five times and lost a fumble that FAU recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

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