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CAMPING WORLD KICKOFF - Orlando, FL

Gators total 10 sacks in clutch victory over Miami

25 days ago
Florida Athletics

ORLANDO - Florida had some missed tackles, a couple turnovers, two personal fouls and two defensive pass interference penalties in the final quarter alone. Each mistake, at the time, seemed like it might end up costing the Gators the game.

Except that Miami had a missed field goal, gave up a 65-yard completion, committed four penalties and gave up four sacks in the final period, as well.

So which gaffe would prove the most costly?

And for whom?

As it turned, the eighth-ranked Gators were the survivors - and victors - by a 24-20 count in the hotly anticipated 2019 season opener between these two cross-state foes that commemorated the start of the 150th season of college football. Fourth-year junior quarterback Feleipe Franks plays to put his team ahead, but also made a couple that easily could have given the game to the Hurricanes. The UF defense, though guilty of some bad penalties that kept potential go-ahead UM drives alive, brought a swarming pass rush that produced 10 sacks and flustered redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams, whose night ended with a thud - courtesy of UF blitzing linebacker Jeremiah Moon - onto the Camping World Stadium turf on fourth-and-12 from the Florida 26 with 12 seconds to play.

"They competed and they competed and they kept competing and kept battling," a drained UF coach Dan Mullen said of his players afterward. "It seemed like we had to win the game about four different times, but we continued to do that. And so I'm really proud of that."

For Florida (1-0), it was just the second win over Miami (0-1) since 1986, the year before the two schools ended a series they'd played annually (except for one year during World War II) since 1938. As far as these two teams and history go, it was hardly a classic. Not with UM committing 14 penalties for 125 yards to UF's nine for 100; not with UM going 2-for-10 on third to UF's 2-for-13, though the Gators did go 4-for-4 on fourth down, including a successful (and bold) run by punter Johnny Townsend for a first down that led to the Gators' first score; and not with either team reaching 100 yards on the ground.

Franks completed 17 of 27 passes for 254 yards, including a first-quarter touchdown of 66 yards on a screen pass to wingback Kadarius Toney and an 8-yarder to tailback Lamical Perine that gave UF a 17-13 lead after Miami muffed a punt. Franks also hit a 65-yard completion to wide receiver Josh Hammond midway through the final period to set up a 3-yard, go-ahead scoring run on a QB keeper that proved the difference.

But not before a lot of anxious moments for the UF faithful in the sellout crowd at the venue roughly halfway between Gainesville and Coral Gables.

"That was exhausting," Mullen said.

UM out-rushed UF 94 yards to just 52, with 50 of those coming when tailback DeeJay Dallas, from the wildcat formation, ran through the Gators' arm-tackling defense to give his team a 20-17 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter. The first play, worth noting, was a 4-yard stuffing of Dallas by Florida defensive end Jabari Zuniga, but that play was nullified when teammate Kyree Campbell was hit with a taunting penalty that moved the ball to midfield.

One play later, UM had the lead.

The fun (and faux pas) were about to heat up.

"It was a game filled, like most opening games like this are, with a ton of mistakes from both teams," said Miami first-year head coach Manny Diaz, whose team led 13-7 at halftime. "It ultimately came down to a couple of red-zone possessions and they were able to capitalize and we were not able to capitalize and ultimately that was the difference in the ball game."

Neither team dominated the stat sheet - Miami had 308 yards of offense to Florida's 306 - but the Gators turned the ball over four times, with three by Franks. The first was a fumble at the UM 5 in the second quarter, then came two fourth-quarter interceptions that gave UM the ball in UF territory.

"Things don't go sometimes the way we expect them to go," Franks said. "Obviously, I didn't go out there and try to throw a pick. That's not what I planned to do. That was not in our game plan. But things happen throughout the course of the game that you don't plan, and that's what adversity is. It's all about just trying to persevere through those kinds of things and that's what we did tonight and just got a great team win."

The first pick was by safety Amari Carter, who returned the play 22 yards to the UF 25. The Gators, trailing 20-17, turned back the threat, with UM sending out its field-goal unit. Kicker Bubba Baxa, instead, took a pitch and raced around the left corner on a fake. The play gained 11 yards, but penalty flags flew due to obvious holding by Miami. Another flag flew when Baxa was pounded well out of bounds by UF's James Houston. The holding call was enforced, but the personal foul on Houston gave UM a fresh set of downs, starting at the Florida 11. The Canes had a chance to go up two scores.

But the Gators' defense bowed up and Baxa, compounding issues for Miami, was wide right on a 27-yard field goal try.

On the very next play, Franks hit his 65-yard heave to Hammond, all the way down to the Miami 15. Tight end Kyle Pitts made a nifty move on a swing pass for 10 yards and a first down at the 3. From there, Franks called his own number and put the Gators ahead on his touchdown with 8:18 remaining.

Miami, behind Williams (19 of 29, 214 yards, 1 TD), marched to the Florida 31 before being turned back by the UF defense. On fourth-and-9 from the 30, Williams was sacked by defensive lineman Marlon Dunlap Jr. - on a play the Canes were called for holding, no less.

On the very next snap, Franks threw into triple coverage and was picked off by Romeo Finley, who went back 19 yards to the UF 25. Unfortunately for the Canes, they got a little carried away in the moment with defensive back Al Blades being called for unsportsmanlike conduct, making UM's starting point the UF 40.

"I got hit and I didn't see it," Franks said of the play.

After an illegal block, two sacks and a delay-of-game penalty, Miami faced a fourth-and-34 for its 36 with 1:33 on the clock. All Florida needed was an incomplete pass or prevent-style stop. What the Gators didn't need was a defensive pass interference from redshirt sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson. Automatic first down.

"In the last five minutes of the game, I aged like 10 years,'' Mullen said.

Three plays after that second PI, it was third-and-12 from the Miami 49. Again, pass interference, this one on sophomore Trey Dean. The Hurricanes hit a 12-yard completion, recovered their own fumble and gave up a sack before facing another third-and-12 at the Florida 26. Guess what? A throw into the end zone netted another pass interference, but the officials huddled and waved off the call.

On fourth-and-12, Moon came hard off the edge and raked after Williams, who could do nothing other than flail and throw the ball into the dirt with 12 seconds to play.

All things orange and blue (as opposed to orange and green) could breathe again.

"Obviously, it was a sloppy game, but we're at the beginning of the season," said UF grad-transfer linebacker Jonathan Greenard, who with 1.5 sacks was one of nine Gators credited with at least one half of a QB takedown. "We got a lot of things to fix and correct, but that doesn't take away from the time on this team and the drive that we have on this team. We're going to do some really good things."