By FRANZ BEARD
GatorBait Senior Columnist
Repeat after me: do not panic!
And why would anyone panic? Did the Florida Gators play lights out in game one? Of course not. Are there a lot of teachable and correctable moments? Of course there are. Were there more positives than negatives? Absolutely, and if you don't think so then we weren't watching the same football game.
The Gators beat Miami, 24-20. This is a Miami team that is going to go at least 9-3 and has a legitimate shot at going 11-1 in the regular season. This is a Miami team that is probably going to play Clemson for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. This is also a Miami team with one of the best front sevens the Gators are going to see all year.
So it was a good albeit sloppy win. Certainly Dan Mullen would have preferred fewer mistakes and not going white knuckles until the final 12 seconds but when he looks at the record is he going to see 1-0 with an asterisk for playing rotten football or simply 1-0?
You know the answer to that.
Now this isn't sunshine pumping but it is a good hard look at what we saw.
A tight game in game one wasn't what Gator fans wanted and you know Mullen and the coaching staff wanted far better execution, but in so many ways this game was good for the Gators. They have the confidence that they can play less than their best but still dig down deep to summon the will to win and prevail. Every single season has one or two games when a team has to suck it up and prove they have the will to win. We already know that about this team after the Miami game.
The offensive line wasn't nearly as bad as some people want to claim. Yes, they got some pressure on Franks but only one sack. This is a team, remember, that registered 40 sacks last year and most of the sack production from 2018 was on the field.
Florida averaged 5.67 yards per offensive play. No, it's not the 6.23 of last season but 5.67 against that defense in the first game of the season is better than decent. Take into account the Gators only squeezed off 54 plays and one of those was a kneel-down at the end of the game.
One good reason why there were so few plays is because Miami had the ball for all but 22 seconds of the last 8:18 of the game. It wasn't like the Hurricanes were moving the ball all over the place on the Gators during that time, either. They had possession of the football for 7:56 yet managed only 17 plays and 31 yards. Penalties – some of them dubious such as the personal foul on the out of bounds and a pass interference in the end zone that should have been waved off – kept the Canes on the field.
Even though the Gators were on the field a lot, they were easily the better conditioned team. If they weren't they would have wilted on Miami's last two possessions.
The pass rush was ferocious. The Gators got 10 sacks and it should have been 11. That incomplete call on Miami's last play was ridiculously bad. The receiver was nowhere near the vicinity. It was intentional grounding and should have gone down as a sack. I can count at least seven other sacks the Gators might have gotten if the zebra had flagged Miami's left side of the line for holding. There are people doing hard time in Raiford for less than what happened for much of the night and still the Gators sacked Jarren Williams 10 times and pressured him a dozen others.
Special teams are indeed special. Evan McPherson didn't get a chance to really show what he can do since he only had one field goal chance, but he got touchbacks on four of his five kickoffs. Tommy Townsend averaged 44.7 per punt but his high floater was in the lights and enough of a problem for sure-handed Jeff Thomas that he muffed it. And who was there to recover? Van Jefferson, a senior wide receiver who wants to be on special teams.
Kadarius Toney is going to be a nightmare for defensive coordinators as he showed on the 66-yard TD in the first quarter. Oh, and did you see the block Jefferson threw to spring him?
Kyle Pitts is probably going to play outside more than with his hand on the ground. He'll be that tight end who is on the move and who spreads outside to force some poor 5-10 kid to try to cover him. Did you see the moves he made on that short catch that set up the TD that actually provided the difference in the game?
Feleipe Franks made some great throws in the second half when the offensive line started giving him decent protection. I attribute the lack of time he had in the first half as two-fold: (1) inexperienced linemen seeing their first action against a fierce rush and (2) the entire team went into a funk in the second quarter after the two fumbles. After the first pick, Franks came back on the next series and threw an absolute laser to Josh Hammond for a 65-yard gain. The throw he made in the third quarter while moving to his left on fourth down when he hit Trevon Grimes for a 10-yard gain was big time.
Not so good stuff:
Feleipe Franks didn't have his best game, but let's examine the two interceptions. The first one was intended for Tyrie Cleveland, who was wide open, but Freddie Swain was in the area. Two receivers in the same area is an absolute no-no. Swain thought the ball was for him so he leaped and it ricocheted off his hands into the hands of a Hurricane for a pick. The second interception was really a bad play call. I understand Mullen's intention, which was to get a quick first down, force Miami to use up its time outs, and then if punting was necessary, pin the Hurricanes deep in their own territory. Franks got hit as he threw because the back side protection wasn't there. Mullen admitted post game that Franks was trying to throw the ball away since the receiver was covered, but when he was hit the ball went straight to the Miami DB.
More on Franks. He was a reluctant runner. I understand he wanted to make big plays throwing the ball, but on at least five occasions when he was flushed out of the pocket if he had run instead of throwing (either for an incompletion or short gain) he could have gained 8-10 yards or more. He needs to take on the same mentality he had against Michigan.
Penalties. There were nine of them for 100 yards. About half were questionable but even so, five penalties is five too many.
After the two fumbles the Gators went into an absolute funk in the second quarter. Up until that point, UF was in control of the game but when they lost focus after blowing two surefire scoring opportunities with turnovers, they let Miami back into the game. The Hurricanes were ready to fold and would have if Florida had stuck a couple of touchdowns on them for a 21-3 lead, which is what it should have been.
Missed tackles. I lost count at 20. I'm not so sure what the final total was but the over/under is 35. The good news about missed tackles is they are correctable. If the Gators simply make tackles, Miami doesn't get a touchdown.
Ball on the ground. Miami had two fumbles in addition to the muff of the punt by Thomas. On both occasions the Hurricanes got to the football and recovered even though the Gators had plenty of people surrounding the ball. And on both the Franks-Lamical Perine exchange and the pitch to Malik Davis, the Gators were on the ball first and yet Miami got the football. I will admit that on the first fumble, I think if Mullen had asked for a review he would have gotten the ball back, but he said afterward he didn't think the odds were good that the review crew would have ruled indisputable evidence. The photos say otherwise.
Instead of a paycheck first game, the Gators got an opponent with a top 10 defense and that created a lot of coachable moments over the next two weeks. The Gators get a week off in which they'll coach the team up, then next week, with UT Martin coming to town, they'll probably work hard on game three Kentucky. Having THREE open dates is going to prove to be a plus over the long haul. I doubt the Gators will face a better conditioned team all year and with an added open date they will be the best rested as well.
Typically, teams make tremendous progress between game one and game two. This time the Gators get that bye week so expect great progress.
You can bet the ranch that Mullen is going to get Jefferson, Grimes and Toney more involved next game.