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Dante Fowler leads Florida to Birmingham Bowl win over ECU

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Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports
Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. consistently pressured ECU QB Shane Carden in the Birmingham Bowl.

Florida junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. already has announced he is turning pro, and he ended his college career in style Saturday with three sacks in a 28-20 Birmingham Bowl victory over East Carolina.

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Fowler (6-foot-3, 261 pounds) harassed ECU quarterback Shane Carden on a consistent basis, and two of the sacks came in the fourth quarter. He finished the season with a relatively modest 8.5 sacks, but the stats belie how effective he was for the Gators. He was used in a variety of roles by UF coaches and is equally comfortable with his hand down or as a stand-up end. He will test extremely well in the run-up to the draft and seems a likely first-round pick.

Florida sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the best in the nation at his position, and he, too, played well against ECU, coming up with the game-clinching interception in Florida's end zone with 1:20 left.

Meanwhile, it was the final game for East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden and Justin Hardy, one of the most prolific pass-catch combos in NCAA history. Hardy (6-foot, 193 pounds), who began his career as a walk-on, broke the FBS career receptions record in November, and he had 11 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown Saturday.


» Driskel granted release from Florida, McElwain says


Carden, who seems likely to finish second in the nation in passing yards (4,736 yards), threw for 427 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw two damaging interceptions; one was returned for a touchdowns and the other was the Hargreaves pick in the end zone.

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Carden finishes his career with 11,911 passing yards and 86 TDs. Hardy's career ends with 387 receptions; the old mark was 349 by Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles (2008-11). Carden could be a third-day pick (Rounds 4-7), while Hardy seems a likely second-day selection (Rounds 2-3).

As usual, Florida's offense was inept. The Gators finished with 350 yards, but 86 came on one play, a wide receiver screen that Ahmad Fulwood took the distance. At one point in the second half, Florida went three-and-out on five of six possessions, and the other possession ended on a fumble. The Gators committed three turnovers in the second half.

Before the game, new Florida head coach Jim McElwain said that Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who saw extensive playing time Saturday after Treon Harris was injured, had asked for and received his release from his Florida scholarship. Driskel completed 8 of 17 passes for 48 yards vs. East Carolina.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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