The SEC Least as they were referred to during the regular season? Try SEC Beast.
Much maligned throughout 2014 — and rightly so — The Lil’ Division That Couldn’t suddenly could in the postseason, with Florida’s 28-20 win over East Carolina (8-5) in the Birmingham Bowl Saturday afternoon putting a bow on a perfect bowl season. Five teams played — UF, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee — and all five won, giving the East a perfect 5-0 mark during the 2014-15 postseason.
Now, granted, just two of the East’s games — UGA vs. No. 21 Louisville, Mizzou vs. No. 25 Minnesota — came against ranked teams, but that division is the only reason the SEC as a whole has an above-.500 bowl mark as the West went 2-5. Included in that West record was five consecutive losses to close out the slate by the five best teams in the division: LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama. Four of those five losses, though, were to ranked teams, the lone exception being unranked Notre Dame toppling LSU in the Music City Bowl.
UF (7-5), meanwhile, helped cap that perfect East bowl cycle despite being outgained by ECU 536-340. Fortunately for the Gators they were able to make plays in the running game as they ran for 169 yards in the win.
The defense, while not helping out yard-wise, did contribute points as Brian Poole ran an interception back for a touchdown in the first half, not to mention Dante Fowler‘s three sacks in his last game in a Gator uniform. They also forced a fumble on a play that began at the one-yard line late in the second quarter that kept the Pirates from another touchdown, as well as force another turnover late to essentially close out the game.
Offensively, Ahmad Fullwood‘s 86-yard touchdown reception from Treon Harris with 11:20 left in the third quarter was the longest scoring pass play in the history of the Birmingham/BBVA Compass/Papa John’s Bowl. Harris left the game after that because of injury and, replaced by the soon-to-be-departed Jeff Driskel, the UF offense ground to a halt.
On the next six possessions, the Gators had a pair of fumbles that sandwiched four three-and-outs. That allowed the Pirates to cut a deficit that was 28-14 after the long TD pass to 28-20 with 6:29 remaining. On the possession after the second fumble, ECU managed to drive the ball to the UF 27-yard line before being forced to punt the ball back to the Gators with 4:21 remaining.
Yet another Gator three-and-out gave the Pirates the ball back with 3:28 left at their own 42-yard line. After the Pirates drove down to the UF five-yard line — with the aid of a very fortuitous fumble that was kneed forward at least 10 yards by a Gator defender — Vernon Hargreaves intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1:20 remaining to nearly seal the win.
On the third play of the following series, a Driskel run for a first down did seal the win for the Gators.
For the Pirates, Shane Carden finished with 427 yards passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Justin Hardy, the FBS all-time leader in career receptions, closed out his record-breaking career with 11 receptions for 160 yards.
For ECU’s conference the AAC, that league will finish the postseason 2-3.