Georgia Southern doesn’t need either of those — not now anyway.
Kevin Ellison ran for two touchdowns, Jerick McKinnon had a huge score late and four-touchdown underdog Georgia Southern stunned Florida 26-20 Saturday without completing a pass.
The triple-option Eagles beat a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision for the first time in 21 games. The six-time FCS champions are moving up in class next season — thus ineligible for the conference title and postseason play — and look every bit ready for the jump.
“That’s what playing college football is all about,” coach Jeff Monken said. “Having days like (Saturday) that they’re going to remember forever.”
Georgia Southern (7-4) ran for 429 yards — all of the team’s offense and the most against Florida since Nebraska rolled up 524 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
McKinnon finished with 125 yards rushing, including a 14-yard touchdown with 2:57 remaining, and passed former Cherokee High School star Jayson Foster for third on Georgia Southern’s all-time rushing list with 3,896. Ellison added 118 yards on the ground, scoring on runs of 45 and 1.
Fullback William Banks also gashed the Gators, getting 94 yards up the middle. His 53-yarder on a third-and-2 play set up the winning score. McKinnon (ankle) missed last week’s game, and Banks (concussion) sat out the last three weeks.
“It was very emotional because we love our seniors,” Ellison said. “They’re the greatest teammates you can play with. We’re very grateful for them. They came out and showed a lot of leadership to motivate all the young players.”
Florida (4-7) had a chance to win it, thanks partly to two missed extra points.
Skyler Mornhinweg, making his second consecutive start in place of Tyler Murphy (shoulder), got the Gators in scoring territory, but his final two throws fell incomplete. He had Quinton Dunbar open in the corner of the end zone on third down from the 17, but his pass floated high. He tried to force one to Solomon Patton on the final play, but two defenders broke it up.
Florida lost its sixth consecutive game, secured its first losing season since 1979 and won’t go to a bowl for the first time since 1990.
“Very disappointed for our program, an embarrassment (to be) in this situation,” coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s all disappointing. It’s hard to measure it at this point.”
Georgia Southern knew how to measure it.
The Eagles rushed the field and celebrated wildly. Players and coaches stopped long enough to pose for a team picture near the 30-yard line, and then the party really started.
They ran toward the band and eventually settled down long enough to sing the alma mater.
Someone at Florida didn’t want to hear it, though.
Just as the visitors got going, the hometown P.A. started blaring music louder than usual.
Nonetheless, the Eagles surely will sing all the way back to Statesboro — and long into the night. Several players and coaches returned to the field to snap pictures long after the game ended.
“There was never a doubt in their minds,” Monken said. “We didn’t play a perfect game. We put ourselves in bad situations, but nobody panicked.”
Florida has pinned its problems on a slew of injuries. But that excuse doesn’t work against Georgia Southern, which has won three in a row and played without 19 of 65 scholarship athletes.
The Gators were beaten soundly on both sides of the ball.
Florida’s Kelvin Taylor ran for 54 yards on the opening drive, but managed just 38 the rest of the day.
Georgia Southern, meanwhile, ran wild. McKinnon gained 66 yards on the first play of the second half, setting up Ellison’s 1-yard plunge on fourth down. The touchdown put the Eagles up 14-10.
The Eagles gashed the Gators early and often, producing runs of 45, 53 and 66 yards. Eight Georgia Southern players had at least one run of 10 yards or longer.
“This is what they do for a living,” Muschamp said. “It’s hard to defend them. The way you defend these teams is you change the scoreboard on the other side and you get them out of their rhythm and you create negative plays and you get them behind the down and distance. We were never able to do that.”
Mornhinweg, who completed 14 of 25 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, hooked up with Patton for a 46-yard score with 5:41 left that tied the game at 20.
But Florida’s defense couldn’t get a much-needed stop.
“There’s a lot of people that if you said, ‘If you’re willing to take a guess here, who’s going to win: Georgia Southern or Florida?’ There’d probably be a lot more people who would have picked Florida. And that’s just the truth of it,” Monken said.