STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Florida's offense got just what it needed: Help from Mississippi State.
Chris Rainey scored from 8 yards out after the Bulldogs stumbled on a fake punt and Dustin Doe may have slipped a fumble on an interception return for a touchdown past the referees as the second-ranked Gators came away with a tough win, 29-19 over old friend Dan Mullen Saturday night.
The Bulldogs (3-5, 1/3 SEC) stymied the Gators (7-0, 5-0) near the goal line all night, but Rainey's run and Doe's 23-yard return helped Florida extend the nation's longest winning streak to 17 games.
Tim Tebow scored on a 26-yard run and picked up big chunks of yardage outside the Bulldogs 20. But the Gators offense is still struggling and doesn't resemble the juggernaut that won last season's national title.
The Bulldogs kept it close with a pair of interception returns for touchdowns from Johnthan Banks. Tebow had just one in his career before the game against his old offensive coordinator's new team.
They also kept the Gators out of the end zone on their first four trips inside the 20, leading to three short field goals and Banks' first TD return, which went for 100 yards.
With Mississippi State's offense going nowhere against the Gators' nasty defense, Mullen gambled on fourth-and-2 at his own 27. He called for a fake punt, with Robert Elliott taking a pitch on the reverse from the punter. But Elliott tripped trying to make a cut and lost 5 yards.
Six plays later, including a fourth-and-short conversion by Tebow, Rainey found a seem and darted into the end zone. The Gators finally had some cushion, 23-13.
The Gators have scored seven touchdowns in 25 trips to the red zone in SEC play this season.
After No. 1 Alabama needed a blocked field goal on the game's last play to beat Tennessee 12-10, the Gators might have had a chance to grab the top-ranking back in the AP poll.
But Florida worked almost as hard putting away the Bulldogs as Alabama did against the Vols.
And the Gators might have gotten a break on a close call.
Two plays after Rainey's touchdown, Doe grabbed a deflected pass at the 23 and found a path to the end zone.
But the linebacker started celebrating and slowing down before the goal line and Bulldogs receiverBrandon McRae knocked the ball out of Doe's hand. It was ruled a touchdown and it stood up on video review. Had the score been overturned, the Bulldogs could have had the ball at the 20.
Red zone struggles were the topic all week in Gainesville after 23-20 win over Arkansas that cost the Gators the No. 1 ranking. Florida was first in the BCS with Alabama second.
Florida entered the game 76th in red-zone efficiency. Players and coaches attributed it to several things: Poor play by wide receivers and offensive linemen, the loss of Mullen and do-everything playmaker Percy Harvin, Tebow's recent concussion and new offensive coordinator Steve Addazio's play-calling.
All that talk did little to change things Saturday, and the Bulldogs tied it up 13-13 early in the third quarter in a field goal.
Tebow and the Gators had no trouble moving the ball outside the 20. The Heisman winner ripped off an impressive 26-yard scoring run when he jumped for a bad snap, faked a pitch, stiff-armed a defender to get into the open field, then slipped the ball past the pylon on a dive for the end zone.
Florida's defense also came up with a few big plays. The Gators were without middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and a pair of defensive linemen, but still kept Mississippi State's offense out of the end zone and Anthony Dixonin check, snapping his string of five straight 100-yard rushing games.
The critical part is that Tebow went against his old offensive coordinator, and the offense really struggled.