ORLANDO — How was that for a roller coaster ride of a way to get this 2019 season and college football’s 150th anniversary kicked off?
You never know with opening games, especially when they take place with a week remaining in August. What was clear in Florida’s 24-20 victory over Miami is that both teams need a lot of work. But again, it’s still August.
The 66,543 that squeezed into Camping World Stadium on an 89-degree Saturday evening stood for virtually the entire game. And why not? It was Florida and Miami in Orlando, a highly-anticipated matchup that featured several lightning-quick emotional swings, especially when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter.
Not that the first meeting between the eighth-ranked Gators and Hurricanes since 2013 was a sight for sore eyes. Far from it. The teams combined for 23 penalties for 225 yards, five turnovers and a scant four of 23 third downs were converted.
In other words, Dan Mullen and Manny Diaz have a lot of work to do before their teams resume play on September 7. The Gators turned the ball over four times while the Hurricanes’ yielded 10 sacks and were penalized 14 times.
While not necessarily masking the fact there was much disjointedness on either side, there were five lead changes and the biggest lead was six points. Indeed, nobody was eager to get on I-4 early to escape the traffic nobody could escape anyway.
The stage was set for a sixth lead change in the latter portion of the fourth quarter after Miami’s Romeo Finley intercepted Feleipe Franks and returned the pick 19 yards. Even after an unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Hurricanes’ Al Blades Jr. for taunting Franks, Manny Diaz’s team still started the drive at the Gators’ 40 with 4:20 to play.
Four minutes and eight seconds later, though, and despite two pass interference calls against the Gators, the first of which was on 4th-and-34, Franks trotted out for what those wearing orange and blue undoubtedly felt was one of the game’s prettiest plays: a kneel down.
“It kept seeming like we had to, you know, almost like we had to win the game three different times,” said Mullen, whose Gators now trail the all-time series versus UM, 29-27. “We had to make the game-winning play three different times and we were able to do that. Really proud of our guys for doing that.”
Mullen was really proud of his quarterback. The final margin came with 8:18 remaining in the fourth quarter when Franks called his own number and scored from three yards out.
The touchdown was set up on the drive’s first play when Franks found Josh Hammond, who beat redshirt freshman Gilbert Frierson deep over the middle for a 65-yard gain down to the Miami 15.
It was a pass that Franks may not have completed a year ago, or even attempted, especially since the last play of the Gators’ previous series resulted in an interception to set up Miami in great field position, which the ‘Canes squandered.
“I think that shows his maturity and how he’s continued to come back and grown in the off-season,” said Mullen, who noted he may not have put Franks in that situation a year ago, to go deep on the QB’s first snap following an interception in his own territory. “I think it shows the confidence we have in his ability and our wideouts. We trust those guys.”
For Franks, it was simply a matter of having a short memory in a sport that can allow bad memories to linger.
“Our team and our offense did a great job of picking me up,” said the redshirt junior, who completed 17-of-27 for 254 yards, two TDs and a pair of picks. “Josh made a great catch and did a great job running the route. Adversity (is part) of the game of football and I think that we did a great job of just responding and coming out with a great win.”
Diaz received a nice performance from redshirt freshman Jarren Williams, who made the first start of his career after seeing the field once (three pass attempts) in 2018, and therefore maintaining his redshirt.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder out of Lawrenceville, Ga. completed all five of his passes for 61 yards on the season’s opening drive. A 36-yard field goal by Bubba Baxa capped the drive.
On the final possession of the half Williams marched Miami 90 yards down the field and capped a 12-play drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brevin Jordan with 45 seconds remaining. The drive consumed 6:08 and gave the Hurricanes a 13-7 lead at the break.
Despite being under siege all night, Williams looked very poised and finished 19-for-29 for 214 yards, one TD and no picks.
“Jarren never really blinked,” said Diaz when asked about the atmosphere, the opponent and all that the young man was up against. “I think you can see why we picked him to be our guy.”
Williams might not last long unless the pass protection tightens the screws. Diaz, though, does not place the blame entirely in the lie.
“They’ve got an experienced front that we knew would give us some trouble,” said Diaz, who made his head-coaching debut. “And then it got to the point where there was going to be a lot of throwing in the second half. You know, that’s all part of it. You’ve got to put yourself in some situations where you’ve got to expose yourself to their rush. I think it’s always unfair to say, well, it’s just on this position or that position. Protecting the quarterback is an 11-man job on offense.”
The job now is for both teams to smooth the rough edges and get ready to take the field again in two weeks. Florida hosts FCS member Tennessee-Martin and the ‘Canes travel to Chapel Hill for a conference tilt against North Carolina.
Led by Ventrell Miller’s two, nine Gators had a hand in the defense’s 10 sacks. The unit totaled 16 tackles for loss with senior end Jabari Zuniga tallying three (1.5 sacks) for 18 yards…..Florida was penalized nine times for 100 yards…..Lamical Perine led the running game with 42 of UF’s 52 net yards rushing….The Gators picked up 131 of their 254 passing yards on two plays: Franks’ screen to running back Kadarius Toney that turned in a 66-yard first-quarter TD and the 65-yard strike to Hammond….The Gators improved to 85-28 in openers, including 16-21 in road/neutral site openers.
The first Tate Martell sighting was in the second quarter when he lined up in the slot. The Ohio State transfer was in at quarterback for two fourth-quarter plays, including a run for a one-yard loss…..Between penalties (14-125) and sacks/TFLs (16-71), the ‘Canes went 196 yards in the opposite direction….Tight end Brevin Jordan led the ‘Canes with five receptions and 88 yards….Buffalo grad transfer K.J. Osborn had four catches for 41 yards…..DeeJay Dallas, seen in the wildcat on a couple of occasions, had a game-high 95 yards rushing, including 50 on a TD run that gave Miami a 20-17 lead 45 seconds into the final quarter…..Safety Gurvan Hall Jr. was the Hurricanes’ leading tackler with 5.5….The 305 turnover chain reflecting Miami’s area code debuted early in the second quarter when fifth-year senior lineman Scott Patchan recovered a Franks fumble.