Rapid Reaction: No. 8 Florida survives, barely, in showdown vs. rival Miami
ORLANDO — It wasn’t pretty. But it wasn’t a loss, either.
Florida certainly didn’t look like the No. 8 team in the country Saturday night, but the Gators made just enough plays to put away pesky rival Miami 24-20 in their eagerly awaited Week 0 showdown at Camping World Stadium.
The Gators sputtered through nearly 3 quarters, but the game turned when Miami muffed a punt at its 11. Florida recovered, and on 3rd down, Feleipe Franks hit Lamical Perine for an 8-yard TD to give the Gators a 17-13 advantage. It was Franks’ 2nd TD pass of the night.
Miami didn’t go away. But after the Canes retook the lead on DeeJay Dallas’ 50-yard TD run, the Gators answered again.
Franks, with his cleanest pocket of the night, threw a beautiful deep ball to Josh Hammond for a 65-yard gain. Three players later, Franks delivered the dagger on a 3-yard TD run to make it 24-20. It was the 5th and final lead change of the game.
Miami made it interesting when it picked off Franks for the 2nd time in the final minutes, but the Gators’ defense held. Eventually, even though it committed 2 pass interference penalties to extend the drive and give Miami one last chance.
Pugh to whew. Gator Nation may now exhale.
The Gators will take it, but they don’t want to repeat it.
Truth be told, most of the night belonged to Miami. The unranked Hurricanes, full of fury if not 5-stars, took it to the Gators.
All-time Canes great Michael Irvin got the party started earlier in the week, claiming the Hurricanes were going to come into town and rip out the Gators’ heart.
Miami played like it got the message.
Swag? Turnover chains? Touchdown rings? Check, check and straight cash. They were all on display on a night the Canes tried to stake their claim to state supremacy behind a rookie head coach and a first-time starting quarterback.
Not that Jarren Williams played like it. Williams held his own against Franks, particularly in the first half, when he completed 12 of 14 passes for 158 yards and a momentum-turning touchdown late in the first half to give the Canes a 13-7 lead.
Florida had opportunities in the first half, but twice lost a fumble. The first one, at Miami’s 7-yard line, cost the Gators a chance to add to their 7-3 lead. The second one, near midfield, set up Miami’s second field goal.
Both brought out a new version of Miami’s turnover chain.
Florida had its moments. Dan Mullen, who promised to bring back the fun, certainly didn’t wait long. He might not have emptied the playbook, but he certainly got past Chapter 3.
Florida’s opening possession of 2019 started with a 50-yard throw from Franks to Van Jefferson. (Jefferson caught it, but he was out of bounds.) Two plays later, Mullen was staring at a 4th-and-3 from Florida’s 28. The Gators punted on traditional football. Tommy Townsend took the snap and raced around the right edge to pick up the first down. The next play, Franks hit Kadarius Toney on a simple screen. Toney turned it into a spectacular 66-yard touchdown, getting two key blocks and breaking several tackles along the way.
But those plays were few and far between on a night filled with turnovers, penalties and missed tackles.
Florida got away with it on a neutral field Saturday in Week 0. But the Gators know their season will be judged on another neutral field in Florida — against Georgia in Week 10.
The Gators team that showed up in Orlando can’t be the same one that arrives in Jacksonville. Or that party will be over.