GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Bowling Green had several chances to pull off an upset of No. 23 Florida.
Special teams let the Falcons down.
Fifth-year senior Stephen Stein missed field-goal attempts of 31 and 29 yards, and punter Brian Schmiedebusch had a 10-yard punt that led to Florida’s go-ahead points in a 27-14 victory Saturday.
Those mistakes were costly for a four-touchdown underdog playing on the road.
“We didn’t consider ourselves underdogs,” linebacker Dwayne Woods said. “We felt like we were better than Florida. The way we prepared for this and what we had coming back, we felt we were the better team. Today, it was too many mistakes, too many big plays. You can’t have that if you expect to beat a Top-25 team.”
Mike Gillislee had a career-high 148 yards rushing and two touchdowns for Florida, helping the Gators win their 23rd consecutive opener. The streak is the second longest in the nation behind Nebraska (27).
“We thought we were going to come out and just put up 40 points,” said Gillislee, who carried 24 times. “That wasn’t the case. They came to play, but we finished.”
The Gators can thank Gillislee, Frankie Hammond and Bowling Green’s special teams for the latest season-opening win.
A senior who spent the last three years playing behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, Gillislee scored on runs of 15 and 38 yards in the second quarter. Hammond turned a short pass into a 50-yard score early in the fourth. Bowling Green could have taken the lead in the second half, but Stein missed his second field goal.
“We’ve struggled with field goals for three years,” said Falcons coach Dave Clawson, who planned to switch kickers if his team got another shot. “You miss two short ones like that, we’re going to give the other kid a shot. You’ve got to come out of those drives with points. We had a chance to be down just four points at the half. That was big.”
Florida’s quarterback rotation got most of the attention on a sweltering day in Gainesville.
The Gators alternated sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel in what was dubbed a final chance to earn the starting job. Driskel seemingly prevailed, although Muschamp said the competition remains open.
Brissett started the game, and then went to the bench on the second play. Driskel also started — lining up at receiver for the first snap — and played the first quarter. Brissett took over in the second, but Florida coach Muschamp went back to Driskel after halftime.
“I felt like the rhythm of the game dictated that we were going to need some pocket movement … and Jeff gave us that better opportunity,” Muschamp said.
Brissett completed 3 of 5 passes for 31 yards. Driskel was 10 of 16 for 114 yards. His biggest play was a 10-yard pass to Hammond, who put a hand on the ground for stabilization, turned up field and broke two arm tackles en route to the longest reception in his five years in Gainesville.
Hammond’s score made it 24-14, enough to put away the offensively challenged Falcons.
Bowling Green, though, had Florida on its heels in the third quarter.
Driskel threw a poor pass to Trey Burton on a fourth-and-1 play, and the Falcons seized the momentum.
Schmiedebusch, who looks more like a fullback than a punter, gained 8 yards on a fourth-down fake. He juked Jabari Gorman on the play, which ended with an extra 15 yards for a late hit out of bounds.
Anthon Samuel capped the drive with a 12-yard run on a counter play. A game in which Florida was heavily favored all of a sudden was tied at 14.
The Gators, though, took advantage of a shanked punt to pull ahead 17-14 lead. Even then, things were dicey after Omarius Hines fumbled in Florida territory. Bowling Green didn’t capitalize, though.
Matt Schilz threw an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter. Chris Gallon tipped the ball over the middle, and it landed in Marcus Roberson’s hands.
“We’re bummed,” said Schilz, who completed 24 of 49 passes for 204 yards. “We thought we had the game there against a really good team, so everyone is really bummed right now. We played them tough, but it’s still a loss.”
Three plays after the pick, Hammond changed the tenor of the game.
“It hurts,” Woods said. “To come up short in a game like this hurts a lot. We’ll give it 24 hours and then we’ve got to move on and get ready for Idaho. Those mistakes, they can’t happen anymore. We’re not young. We can’t have them. As a veteran group, we still lose our focus sometimes. We can’t do that.”
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)