Editor’s note: GatorNation is counting down the top five moments of Florida’s 2012 season this week. They could be plays, drives, quarters or decisions, but regardless of what they are, they are the significant moments that shaped the season.
We continue with No. 3: Jarred loose
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All it took was one hit to erase a disastrous third quarter and send Florida to a huge victory over rival Florida State. And it only happened because starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins was out of the game with a foot injury.
"Man down, man up," UF coach Will Muschamp said after the Gators’ 37-26 victory in Tallahassee, Fla., on Nov. 24. "It happened for us again. A guy goes in and makes a play. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, we tell our guys it really doesn’t matter. We don’t use excuses. We did enough of that last year. So when a guy gets hurt and the next guy comes in, he needs to play well."
The guy on this particular Saturday was freshman LB Antonio Morrison. He was the one who hammered FSU QB EJ Manuel and knocked the ball loose at the Seminoles’ 42-yard line with about 11 minutes remaining in the game. DE Dominique Easley recovered the fumble and returned it to the FSU 37.
One play later, RB Mike Gillislee scored the go-ahead touchdown, and the Gators tacked on two others to snap a two-game losing streak in the series.
That erased a third quarter in which FSU scored 17 points to take a 20-13 lead. Caleb Sturgis’ 32-yard field goal with 13:31 to play had cut the Seminoles’ lead to 20-16 before Morrison made one of the season’s most critical plays.
The freshman from Bolingbrook, Ill., is undersized for an SEC linebacker -- he’s 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds -- but he hits like a 250-pounder. He drove his left shoulder into Manuel’s right shoulder while LB Lerentee McCray was dragging Manuel to the ground and jarred the ball loose.
The 6-5, 240-pound Manuel went down hard and went to the sidelines woozy. The Seminoles soon followed.
"He is physical," NT Omar Hunter said of Morrison, who has 31 tackles and played in every game this season. "I don’t know if he knows anything else, but he is physical."
That play is essentially the reason the Gators are playing in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. UF’s victory over FSU ensured the Gators a spot in the top four in the BCS standings, which results in an automatic berth in a BCS bowl.