UF holds off Virginia for milestone Orange Bowl win
MIAMI GARDENS — Improving from 10 to 11 wins would not be easy, coach Dan Mullen warned his Florida Gators during the offseason.
On Monday night, the No. 9 Gators found out what Mullen meant.
A 14.5-point favorite against a Virginia team coming off a 45-point loss to Clemson, the Gators struggled to shake the pesky Cavaliers, eventually pulling away for a 36-28 win during the Orange Bowl.
With an announced pro-Florida crowd of 65,157 at Hard Rock Stadium, the Gators (11-2) rode a balanced attack and a career-best night by Lamical Perine to beat the No. 24 Cavaliers (9-5). During his final game with the Gators, the senior tailback finished with 181 yards from scrimmage — including a career-high 138 rushing yards — and scored touchdowns on three of UF’s first five possessions.
“I’m proud of our guys; we found a way to finish,” Mullen said on ESPN shortly after the win. “… That was a heck of a team we played. You know they were going to play hard the entire game.”
Perine did not need long to make his mark, scoring on a 61-yard run on the game’s third snap.
Virginia followed with a threeand-out possession, raising the specter of a Gators’ cakewalk.
Instead, the Cavaliers found their footing behind dynamic dualthreat quarterback Bryce Perkins and and made a game of it.
Following a Kyle Trask intercep
tion to Cavs cornerback Nick Grant, Perkins hit Terrell Jana, who had a step on UF’s Trey Dean, with a 34-yard touchdown strike. On Virginia’s next series, Perkins showcased his escapability to tie the game at 14-14. Eluding a swarm of UF defenders in the backfield, Perkins found top target Hasise Dubois in the back of the end zone for a leaping catch and 9-yard TD over Marco Wilson.
But Perkins’ playmaking eventually was overshadowed by Mullen’s play-calling.
With the Gators clinging to a 17-14 lead, UF converted 4th-and-8 from the Virginia 35 when Trask completed an 11-yard pass to Freddie Swain.
The Gators would extend the lead to 27-14, but Perkins’ third touchdown pass — a 7-yarder to Joe Reed — forced Mullen’s hand again. This time, he made one his gutsiest calls in two seasons as Gators’ coach.
Facing 4th-and-1 from UF’s own 44 early in the fourth quarter, Mullen called an run-option for Trask, who pitched it to Perine for a 2-yard gain. A 30-yard catch by Tyrie Cleveland and 23-yard run by Perine on the next two plays set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Trask, who also had 305 passing yards as UF finished with 549 total.
Trailing 33-21, Virginia moved the ball down the field one more time behind Perkins. But the Cavs’ electric senior made his first big mistake of the night when he floated a pass that ended up in the hands of UF freshman corner Kaiir Elam on the Virginia 3.
The play sealed the Gators’ second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl win and gave them 11 in a season for the first time since 2012.