Feleipe Franks will never play the Miami Hurricanes again, and that’s fine with him.
He got his win in the storied rivalry in a game that will go down in Florida-Miami lore- though perhaps every bit as much for the teams’ collective ineptitude as the excitement it provided.
With a slew of former greats in the crowd including Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer, Louis Murphy and Ahmad Black, the Gators survived a suspicious inability to tackle Miami players, nine penalties for an even 100 yards, and four hideous turnovers, including one inside Miami’s ten yard line and another one that gave the Hurricanes a lifeline back into the game to take down Miami, 24-20, in the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando. The win gives Florida just their second victory over Miami in the last 34 years- but also their second win in the last three meetings with the Canes. More importantly, Florida starts off the year 1-0 for the 29th time in the last 30 years.
For most of the night, though, that fate was very much in question.
Miami opened the game by shredding the Gators’ defense on a nine play, 56 yard drive led by new quarterback Jarren Williams that eventually stalled and ended with a field goal. Florida would immediately counter with the only points it would get in the entire first half, a 66 yard touchdown catch and run for Kadarius Toney off a screen pass from Franks. Toney broke several tackles en route to the goal line, casually trotting the last several yards into the dark green painted Miami end zone.
Then Florida turned into a charity organization.
The Gators looked poised to bust the game open early when Franks led them down the field again on their next drive, but then he and LaMical Perine botched the exchange. Miami defensive lineman Scott Patchan- the younger brother of former Florida lineman Matt Patchan- fell on it. Fans who may have missed that blunderful moment of miscommunication got to witness a real life instant replay on the Gators’ next drive. This time it was Malik Davis who couldn’t find the handle and Shaquille Quarterman of Miami who fell on it. The Canes cashed that mistake in for a field goal to chip the deficit down to 7-6.
Florida followed that up by mysteriously forgetting how to play defense. Highlighted by a 40 yard gain by Deejay Dallas, Miami slapped the Gator defense around on a 12 play, 90 yard touchdown drive that ate most of the remaining six minutes off the first half clock. Along the way, Ventrell Miller and Jonathan Greenard each registered a sack before the unit fell apart on both of the subsequent long-distance-to-go situations, and thus the Canes took a 13-7 lead into the locker room on a 25 yard touchdown catch by Brevin Jordan. Jeawon Taylor had a shot to stop him around the five, but Jordan bounced right off of his pads for the score.
Florida didn’t earn their second touchdown of the game. It was given to them. After Evan McPherson had sliced the deficit in half with a field goal, Miami’s Jeff Thomas muffed Tommy Townsend’s punt and Van Jefferson recovered at the Canes’ eleven yard line. Three plays later, Franks found Perine on a quick slant over the middle for the score to put Florida back on top- for the moment.
Aided by a pair of silly Florida penalties, Miami went 75 yards in three plays to retake the lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Two of thirds of those yards came on Dallas’s 50 yard touchdown run, in which he broke at least four, possibly five tackles before trotting into the end zone. Florida appeared to be in even deeper trouble when Franks promptly threw a ball behind Freddie Swain that got popped skyward and easily snatched out the air by Miami’s Amari Carter for his first interception of the new season.
But then back went the seesaw of momentum the other way. Miami kicker Bubba Baxa appeared to pick up a first down on a fake field goal, but that play was called back for holding. However, Florida’s James Houston was also called for a late hit out of bounds on the play, giving Miami a free first down. The Canes couldn’t do anything with that gift, and Baxa then missed the chip shot field goal. No sooner did Franks return to the field than he launched a 65 yard bomb to Josh Hammond, who Miami finally corralled down at their 15 yard line. Three plays later, Franks plowed into the end zone to give the Gators the 24-20 lead that they would finish the game with with six minutes to go.
That didn’t mean Florida made it easy on itself the rest of the way, though.
After Marlon Dunlap sacked Williams to end the Canes’ ensuing drive and give the Gators the ball back, all Florida had to do was run the final 4:20 off the clock to preserve victory. Instead, Franks immediately threw his second pick of the night, a gruesome interception to Romeo Finley who returned it down to Florida’s 25. The fact Florida was throwing the ball in that situation to begin with was a gargantuan mistake in its own right, and Franks compounded that error by telegraphing his duck into triple coverage.
Miami quickly penalized itself back into an unfavorable position, though, and the Gator defense added to the Canes’ misery with another sack, this time from Jabari Zuniga to set up a 4th and 34. But star cornerback Marco Wilson bailed them out with an uncharacteristic mistake- a nearly fatal pass interference call against Jeff Thomas that gave the Hurricanes a first down. Florida’s defense again pushed Miami backwards, setting up a third and 12- and again the Canes were saved by a pass interference call, this time on Trey Dean III.
Forced to do it a third time, Kyree Campbell registered Florida’s tenth sack of the night to set up another third and twelve. But on their third try, the Gators finally managed to stay out of their own way. An incompletion set up a do-or-die fourth and twelve, and when Williams’ desperation, pressure-induced heave fell harmlessly to the turf, Florida had won- and could finally breathe again after nearly four hours of frustration.
Silly, avoidable mistakes were the theme of this game, and the Gators have a lot of work to do if they want to make a real run at the SEC East this year. The turnovers, though expected to a certain extent, were extremely worrisome given that there were four of them and one of them came in a situation where conventional wisdom says to run the ball. The penalties were equally frightening considering how badly timed they were, and how easily they could have cost the Gators the victory in the end. Florida wasn’t prepared for Miami’s screen heavy attack to start the game, which is a coaching issue. Nobody other than Greenard, Zuniga or Houston ever really did figure out how to tackle an opposing player. And other than a very nice, touchdown saving pass breakup by CJ Henderson in the end zone, Florida’s vaunted secondary looked average at best for most of the night. So there’s certainly a lot of learning and growing to do.
Nevertheless, it’s always better to learn and grow from a win than from a loss. And that cliche is never more true than when you do it against a rival you don’t see much of anymore, and thus are left knowing that the win you just earned will be remembered by Gator fans forever.