The more I studied UF on film this week, the more respect I had for what they bring to to the table. While not particularly aesthetically pleasing, they are a hard nosed, disciplined team that navigated their way through the SEC East last season with only one loss in conference.
That being said, The Miami Hurricanes played a very physical, opportunistic, and heroic game, and were somewhat lucky to win a ferocious battle in Sun Life Stadium.
Miami won the toss and elected to defer. Florida wasted no time running right at the 'Canes picking up a quick first down, which then set up a play action pass from Jeff Driskel to Quinton Dunbar for 22 yards.
With the Gators driving, the D came up with the first of many huge plays! Denzel Perryman annihilated Matt Jones on a run up the middle and the ball popped free. Curtis Porter recovered to set up the O just in front of midfield.
Duke Johnson got going quickly on UM'a first drive, slashing the UF D behind some excellent blocking for a few big runs. Allen Hurns, however, committed a silly chop block around the goal line that slowed the drive down, but fortunately for Miami, the Gators gave it right back with a roughing the passer penalty.
Finally from the 7, Stephen Morris made a terrific throw on a corner route to Herb Waters and a 7-0 lead. Sun Life stadium erupted!
Florida's second drive was thwarted behind a nice coverage play by Tracy Howard and some heavy pressure on third down from Tyriq McCord. Miami was definitely more physical at the point of attack early on than at any point in a big game last year.
But the Hurricanes went three and out with Morris missing on a couple of throws to Phillip Dorsett, and Pat O'Donell's punt was blocked by Louchiez Purifoy setting up UF deep in Miami territory. Driskel walked into the end zone shortly thereafter from the 9 on a perfectly executed zone read play.
Shockingly Florida faked the PAT and were stoned by AJ Highsmith, and suddenly we had a 7-6 ball game.
The Canes wasted no time responding!! After picking up a few first downs, Morris went for the jugular. Off a beautiful play action fake #17 aired it out to a wide open Dorsett for a 52 yard score and a 14-6 advantage. UF's D was softened up by Johnson's running and the torrid no huddle pace of the O. Florida star D lineman Dominique Easley was on the sideline sucking wind on the play.
These would be the last offensive fireworks for a UM for a while. A long while.
Driskel and Co. tried to answer back. After hitting Solomon Patton for a 46 yard bomb, and getting closer thanks to a personal foul, the Gators were knocking on the end zone door to start the second quarter.
Miami did not buckle though. On third and goal Anthony Chickillo got in Driskel's face and forced an awful pass over the middle that Rayshawn Jenkins picked off.
The Canes next drive however, was destroyed by the rejuvenated Easley single handedly. After stopping Duke for a loss, the UF big man drew two consecutive holding penalties and Miami was forced to punt.
UF got the ball back and was at it again. UM's D was ok on the conventional run plays, but struggled on the read option plays as UF moved the ball well. On 4th and 1 from the Miami 16 though, Shayon Green plastered Driskel on the QB sneak for a turnover on downs to get the ball the back. The much maligned unit had come up with another huge play.
As the 2nd quarter churned towarda concussive conclusion, the Gators ground out another long drive. But the Florida struggles in the red zone continued as Trey Burton fumbled and Thurston Ambrister recovered.
As the 'Canes headed back to the locked room with a fontunate 14-6 lead, the story of the first half was a rugged and stout D, that played a valiant and gutsy 30 minutes. Perryman, Chickillo, and Green were all over the field.
On the opening possession of the 2nd half, UM again got no where.
UF, however, picked up where they left off and immediately moved the ball into Miami territory, mixing run and pass effectively. But at the UM 20 they were stifled yet again as Perryman made a key open field tackle on third and long.
This time the Gators settled for a 33 yarder from Austin Hardin to let the lead to 14-9.
As the 3rd quarter rolled along Miami continued to struggle on O, having not converted a first down in nearly a quarter and a half. But the D continued to force stops, this time Jimmy Gaines coming up huge on 3rd and 2 on UF's second possession of the half.
A Ronald Powell sack of Morris forced YET another punt. And the D had the answer AGAIN. Tyrone Cornelius broke up a 3rd and 4 pass to keep UM up.
Finally, just before the end of the 3rd, Allen Hurns made a nice move on a run after catch to spark the O and give the 'Canes breathing room. However at the start of the 4th quarter, hey could not convert on 3rd and 3 and were forced to give the ball up.
But you guessed it..... Miami's D held up AGAIN!
A nice punt return by Dorsett followed, and a 1st down via the ground got the ball rolling. But a suspicious holding call on Ereck Flowers, a missed read by Dorsett on a hot read, and a poorly executed reverse left Miami in 3rd and 25. Morris inexplicably threw the ball down field and was picked setting up the Gators at midfield.
Florida moved the ball inside the red zone one more time, but a miscommunication between Driskel and Burton led to a Howard interception that snuffed out Florida again!!!
With 5 minutes left Florida got the ball back and a long way to go. The D and a fired up home crowd would not make things easy
On 3rd and 7, McCord came around the edge and popped Driskel, separating him from the balll for the 5th UF turnover of the game. 4 or 5 Canes pounced on the ball. Consider this play the most important strokes of a defensive masterpiece.
3 plays later Duke scampered left for an easy 2 yard run and finally, finally the light at the end of a long tunnel was in sight. Miami lead 21-9 despite almost no offensive success since the first quarter.
But the game wasn't over yet.
A breakdown in the secondary gave Florida some hope. Driskel hit Patton from 20 yards out to cut the lead to 21-16. Strange considering how good the U's team had been in their own territory all game long.
On the ensuing on sides kick Miami was very lucky to recover, with Highsmith securing the ball amongst a 20 man scrum.
UF managed to get the ball back, but a sack by about 4 'Canes took the final air out of the ball.
The players rushed toward the crowd and deservedly celebrated!!
The Miami Hurricanes finally achieved a signature win!! Their biggest in a long long time, but there is still a ton of work to do.
Miami gets a A+. Despite an anemic offensive performance, how do you not give the 'Canes high marks for defeating Florida of the big bad SEC??
The defense was clutch, spectacular, and tough as nails.
CB Ladarius Gunter was shaken up on the opening series of the game after being on the receiving end of a cheap shot from Burton. Gunter did return.
S Rayshawn Jenkins appeared to hurt his left ankle in the third quarter.
LB Thurston Armbrister left the game in the 4th with a leg injury. He walked off the field on his own power. He also returned.
Duke Johnson took a hard hit in the 4th, but appeared to be ok.