On a night in which the Gators tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Florida defeated Miami 24-20 despite a flurry of turnovers and penalties that made the score much closer than the two teams really are. That was one, um……interesting game, but still satisfying in the end with a win.
I knew the first game would feature some sloppy play, but damn! Let’s just say the Gator staff will have plenty to discuss with the team during the bye week with a LOT of things to “correct”. I knew that the only way this game would be close was if Florida lost the turnover battle, and (unfortunately) that’s exactly what happened. Leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Felipe Franks and Lamical Perine somehow muffed an exchange on a zone read, allowing Miami to escape a potential 11 point deficit and changing the entire complexion of the game. A dropped pitch from Franks to Malik Davis should never have happened, which led to the ‘Canes taking the lead at halftime. Franks then had 2 interceptions in the 4th quarter that allowed Miami first to retake the lead and then to stay close. The first was a pass to an open Freddie Swain that was too high and tipped. The second was, well……I’ll be nice and just say egregious. I liked Coach Mullen calling a pass play on first down with 4:30 left, instead of just running the ball to try and milk the clock. But no one knows why Franks made the throw that he did, giving the ‘Canes a short field to try and win the game. Like I said……LOTS to “correct”.
The Gator defense was lights out for the most part. The offense did them no favors by running only 54 plays and leaving the defense on the field for 36 minutes. But those guys never flinched and brought the heat all night. Yes, there was the one long rushing TD allowed because of horrific tackling. But the defense rose up time and again after the turnovers gave Miami a short field many times. DEs Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard and LBs Ventrell Miller and James Houston created havoc in the ‘Cane backfield all game, getting 10 sacks and numerous QB pressures along with many negative running plays. My guess is that close to 100 yards of Miami’s 301 total came only after multiple pass interference and personal foul calls gave them new sets of downs. DeeJay Dallas ended with 95 rushing yards, but 74 came on only two plays out of the wildcat formation, again driven by terrible tackling. Miami has two quality TEs, and while Brevin Jordan had 88 yards and a touchdown (on a tipped pass), the defense did a much better job overall in covering the TEs than last season. The safety play is still suspect – Jaewon Taylor and Donovan Stiner are not SEC-level players, and Brad Stewart was sorely missed, serving (another) suspension.
Florida’s special teams were dynamite, as expected. I expected them to dominate, while most pregame analysis glossed over them. Tommy Townsend’s punts were excellent, and his fake in the first quarter gained a first down and allowed the Gators to take the lead on the very next play, a 66-yard WR screen to Kadarious Toney. All but one of Evan McPherson’s kickoffs found the end zone, and he converted his only FG attempt. Finally, the buy-in by starters like WRs Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland on punt coverage is a prime example of Mullen’s emphasis on special teams. Both guys were right in Jeff Thomas’ face when he fumbled a punt at the Miami 11-yard line in the 3rd quarter. Jefferson recovered, and the Gators took the lead 17-13 on a Franks to Perine pass.
After the immediate hysteria dies down about the wild 4th quarter, turnovers, penalties, and poor tackling, many will realize that these were the only things that kept the score close, as Florida was at least 14-17 points better than Miami. By playing in this special opening game, Florida gets the rare gift of a 3rd bye week – allowing them plenty of time to recuperate after a hard-fought win and to clean up many things. I could not care less what the national media and perception is from this game – it was a huge win against a bitter in-state rival, and will look even better as scUM cruises through a weak ACC schedule.
I’ll be back next week with my preview of the home opener against Tennessee-Martin. Go Gators!