Gators hold off Noles, keep BCS hopes alive

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida coach Urban Meyer gathered his offensive linemen and gave a simple message: protect the quarterback.

Ivan Maisel's take

Ivan Maisel
Urban Meyer's problem is that the Gators won Saturday the same way that they have won all season: with stiff defense and just enough offense. If this team has a favorite TV show, it's "Ugly Betty."

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He was counting on Chris Leak to do the rest -- and keep the fourth-ranked Gators in the national championship hunt.

The often-criticized senior quarterback came through, directing one of the best drives of his career when Florida needed it most and delivering a 21-14 victory over rival Florida State on Saturday.

"I told coach to just open it up and let me go pick them apart," Leak said.

Leak was 7-of-8 for 79 yards on the game-winning drive early in the fourth quarter. He called an audible on third down, recognizing a blitz and checking to a skinny post, and hooked up with Dallas Baker for a 25-yard gain. He connected with Baker again two plays later for a 25-yard score.

Leak finished 21-of-34 for 283 yards with two touchdowns. The senior improved to 3-1 against Florida State, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,098 yards, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

But to finally dump his critics, he has to do one thing.

"He hasn't won a championship," Meyer said. "Let's go win a championship."

The Gators (11-1) might have a shot at two; they play Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference championship game next week and still have a chance to face Ohio State in the national title game. But they need to beat the Razorbacks and have Southern California lose to get consideration over Michigan.

Florida, fourth in the last Bowl Championship Series standings, certainly didn't get any "style points" with its latest win.

"Here's our style: You got at Tennessee, you've got Kentucky, you've got Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Auburn and at Tallahassee," Meyer said, recalling much of Florida's schedule. "So much for style. You want to put that one against anyone in the country, let's go ahead and go.

"If that's what's making decisions, then I'm going to stand by my comment from a week ago. Implode it. It's over. If that's what's making the decisions -- style points, which I imagine that's what it is -- we've got a problem. It's called winning and losing and playing a difficult schedule."

Meyer might not have a firm grasp of the BCS, but he sure knows how to win rivalry games.

Florida won its third straight against Florida State and improved to 6-0 against its three main rivals -- Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State -- in Meyer's two seasons.

The Gators also won consecutive games in Tallahassee for the first time since 1986 and won three in a row against their in-state rivals for the first time since a six-game streak between 1981 and 1986.

Leak had a lot to do with the current streak.

The Seminoles (6-6) had two chances to even the score, but they failed to convert on fourth down twice -- once in Florida territory and once deep in their own end.

The Gators led 14-0 at halftime -- Andre Caldwell caught a screen pass and turned it into a 66-yard score and Percy Harvin had a 41-yard TD run from the quarterback position. They could have been ahead more, but Chris Hetland missed two short field goals and is now 3-for-12 on the season.

The misses almost proved costly, too.

Joe Surratt scored from a yard out in the third quarter and the Seminoles tied the game in the fourth on Drew Weatherford's 25-yard TD pass to Greg Carr.

But Leak rallied the Gators on the ensuing drive.

"The momentum kind of swung our way and they took it right back, like a good team is supposed to," said Weatherford, who was 16-of-37 for 181 yards with three interceptions. "They really played well and made more big plays than we did and less mistakes than we did, and that is why they won the game."

Florida also overcame the loss of Harvin and running back DeShawn Wynn.

Harvin, the team's most dynamic player, was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field in the second quarter. He briefly lost feeling in his neck, but was walking around at halftime and should be OK.

"We were devastated," said Caldwell, who caught eight passes for 124 yards. "We were hoping he was able to get up and get back soon. We know how important he is to our offense."

Added Meyer: "That zapped our energy."

Wynn injured his left shoulder on the second play of the third quarter and did not return.

So the Gators decided to rely on Leak.

"I think they're doggone good," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "They looked darn second to that 1996 team they had. That's how they looked to me. So much skill running around out there you have to be able to contain them all day long. If they didn't have such a good quarterback that can get them the ball, then we could have handled it.

"Their quarterback can do it."