Monday, August 26, 2019

Schaible: Gators delivered in crunch time against the Hurricanes

Photo Credit: Brian Schaible

By: Brian Schaible
Twitter: @SBNationReports

This Week Zero matchup had a little of everything. 

With 66,000 Floridians filling Camping World Stadium, and thousands more partying all night in the parking lots, this was the perfect setting to renew a storied rivalry.

If only the football lived up to the moment.

Sure, it was a blast!

But you know you’ve witnessed a sloppy football game when both teams combined for over 200 yards in penalties, and a combined 5-for-23 on third down.

Florida actually converted twice as many fourth downs than they did on third.

Early on when backed up deep in their own territory, punter Tommy Townsend took the snap and sprinted just past the sideline first down markers. On the very next play, Feleipe Franks connected with Kadarius Toney for a 66-yard touchdown.

After the game, Florida coach Dan Mullen said he was going to fake the first punt of the game regardless of the situation.

“The key is just to call it and go,” Mullen said. “Don’t overthink it, if you’re going to do, then do it. We have plans we go through and the guys knew.”

While Mullen later conceded that he might have had to at least think about going for a fake inside the ten-yard line, his punter certainly did not lack for confidence when the spotlight was on him.

“When the fake was called, I was super excited,” said punter Tommy Townsend. “Coach Mullen is awesome. He puts a lot of emphasis on special teams and then does an amazing job of coaching us. My teammates just did an excellent job in making key blocks so I could get the first down.”

Going into the game, one of the biggest keys was how a revamped Gators offensive line would hold up against Miami’s speedy front seven. The Hurricanes’ defense certainly did cause havoc at times. The brand new upgraded turnover chain made four appearances on the night. 

Ultimately, it was Miami’s more experienced offensive line that were completely manhandled. The Hurricanes redshirt freshman quarterback, Jarren Williams, was constantly scrambling away pressure and even when he managed to complete a pass, it was often accompanied by a big hit by a defender.

By my count, Williams took at least twenty hard hits in the game. Officially, Florida recorded ten sacks and sixteen tackles for loss. Among the stars bringing pressure was senior linebacker Jonathan Greenard.

“Obviously it was a sloppy game,” said Greenard. “We’re at the beginning of the season and we got a lot of things to fix but that doesn’t take away from the drive that we have on this team.”

Franks closed out 2018 with four straight games of zero turnovers. It was a remarkable turnaround capped with a dominant Peach Bowl victory over Michigan.

Saturday night, Franks more closely resembled his initial starts at Florida. It was an up and down performance but despite several major mistakes, he came through with just enough key plays to propel his team over a fierce rival.

“Yeah I think the rivalry, the hype, all of that stuff was built around the game that can cause distractions, but I think the team did a great job at homing in on the task at hand,” said Franks. “We come out here for a job, and that’s to win the game. And everybody in the nation is watching and those are all good things.”

Everybody may have been watching but I wouldn’t say it was all good things, especially down the stretch.

The last 100 seconds featured an interception, three fumbles, four personal fouls, and a controversial call in the end zone in which a flag was thrown and then inexplicably picked up after a referee conference.

“The last five minutes of the game I think aged like ten years,” said Mullen.

Both teams can now enjoy the rare Labor Day bye week.