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Florida Football

Instant analysis: Gators hold on to win Orange Bowl

December 30, 2019
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Ever since the College Football Playoff selection committee announced that the No. 9 Gators would face No. 24 Virginia in the Orange Bowl, few gave the Cavaliers much of a chance. They opened as 13.5-point underdogs, an extremely large spread for a game of this magnitude.

The expectation that Florida would defeat Virginia seemed justified. After all, the Gators would be playing in their second New Year’s Six game in as many years, while UVA is still getting used to playing in the national spotlight. The crowd would also be extremely pro-Florida.

The Gators legitimately earned a spot in the Orange Bowl by winning 10 games and only losing to two of the best teams in the country in LSU and Georgia. Virginia, meanwhile, won arguably the worst Power Five division, got throttled in the ACC Championship Game and only made a New Year’s Six bowl because of the ACC’s mediocrity and contract with the Orange Bowl. That the Cavaliers don’t belong here was the general sentiment.

Of course, this level of disrespect can be harmful to the heavily favored team. All the Gators have heard over the last month is how they’re going to dominate this over-matched UVA team. Some of their pre-bowl interviews with the media featured very few questions about Virginia. Would they take the Cavaliers lightly and end a strong 2019 season with a dud?

The answer was no. UF (11-2, 6-2 SEC) defeated Virginia (9-5, 6-2 ACC) 36-28 on Monday night in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. UF has won marquee bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2008-09 and compiled an 11-win season for the first time since 2012.

Here is our Instant Analysis as the Gators ended 2019 with a bang.

It Was Over When: The Cavaliers cut the Gators’ lead to 27-21 early in the fourth quarter on a seven-yard pass from Bryce Perkins to Joe Reed.

For the first time all game, UVA had the momentum, and their small crowd started to get loud. UF needed a response.

On the fifth play of the next drive, Kyle Trask connected with Tyrie Cleveland for 30 yards on a post route to advance into UVA territory. On the next play, Lamical Perine rushed around the left end for 23 yards. The play was initially ruled as Perine’s third touchdown run of the game, but replay showed that he stepped out with the ball at the 1-yard line. Trask walked in from a yard out for a score on the next play to make the score 33-21.

The ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed, but the touchdown proved to be the difference.

Freshman corner Kaiir Elam put the game away for good with an interception on the next series.

They Stole the Show: It was a frustrating season for Perine behind a struggling offensive line, but he went out on as high of a note as possible in his final game. He rushed 13 times for 138 yards (10.6 yards-per-rush) and two touchdowns and also caught five passes for 43 yards and a score.

Van Jefferson put on a show in his final game, catching six passes for 129 yards.

The offensive line has struggled all season, but they saved their best game of the season for last. They paved the way for a huge night running the ball and allowed just one sack.

With CJ Henderson electing to skip the game as he prepares for the NFL Draft, Elam was thrust into a larger role. He played extremely well, breaking up a pass and tackling well. The only times he got beat came when he slipped. His interception near the goal line slammed the door on the Cavaliers’ comeback attempt.

Jonathan Greenard came off the field limping several times but turned in an inspiring performance, as he picked up a sack.

For Virginia, quarterback Bryce Perkins proved to be more elusive than a bar of soap in the shower. Florida had plenty of opportunities to sack him, but he often escaped and found receivers downfield, as he did on his 9-yard scoring strike to Hasise Dubois in the second quarter.

The Stats Don’t Lie: The Gators dominated the game statistically, outgaining the Cavaliers 549-375. They averaged 7.5 yards-per-play, compared to six for UVA.

For the first time all season, UF turned in a balanced offensive performance, as it rushed for 244 yards and 7.2 yards-per-carry. Virginia rushed for just 52 yards at 2.5 yards-per-carry.

The Gators’ recorded three sacks and five tackles-for-loss.

Oh What A Play: On Florida’s third play of the game, they handed the ball off to Perine on a counter play. Right guard Brett Heggie pulled and made a great block. Perine snuck through the left side, picked up some more outstanding blocks from the wide receivers and outran Virginia’s defense down the sideline for a 61-yard score.

The run helped the Gators build early momentum behind their crowd and established the early tone. This one would be different for UF’s running game.

These Matchups Proved Key: On paper, both teams entered Monday almost identical to each other in the trenches. UF ranked No. 5 in sacks, while UVA was No. 6. Both featured top-30 rushing defenses. On the other side, both offensive lines struggled mightily in the running game and only fared moderately better in pass-protection. Florida thoroughly dominated up front on both lines of scrimmage, and that allowed them to survive slow starts by Kyle Trask and the secondary.

While the Cavaliers’ receivers made some terrific catches, the Gators’ defensive backs did a nice job of providing tight coverage and preventing deep passes for most of the night.

UF’s defense also did a nice job of keeping the mobile Perkins in the pocket, as he rushed for just 24 yards on 14 carries.

Up Next: The 2019 campaign – and this rollercoaster-like decade of Florida football – has come to a close. Attention now turns to recruiting and the next signing day on Feb. 5. UF exited the December signing period with the nation’s No. 8 class and will look to add a few more players and creep up near the top-five.

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