Orlando, FL — In a game that was decided by who made the fewest mistakes, the 8th ranked Gators’ defense turned away Jarren Williams and the Hurricanes offense in the final moments of a 24-20 Florida victory in Saturday night’s Camping World Kickoff.
With the game nearly in hand, Florida coach Dan Mullen elected to put the ball in the air, allowing Romeo Finley to pick off Feleipe Franks and give the ball back to Miami with under 4:30 to play. After Finley was dragged down at the Florida 25, the Canes were hit with unsportsmanlike conduct and chop block penalties, moving the ball back to the Hurricanes’ 45.
A pair of Florida pass interference calls, including one on 4th-and-34, had the Canes back in business just 24-yards from the go-ahead score. The Gators were tagged with a third pass interference on a throw to Brevin Jordan in the back of the endzone, but the flag was picked up, putting Miami in a 4th-and-11 with the season on the line.
After bobbling the shotgun snap, Williams was unable to set his feet as Florida turned up the pressure and recorded its 10th sack of the evening, this one sealing a Gator victory.
Florida’s 10 sacks were the most allowed by a Hurricanes team, surpassing the nine they surrendered in the 2005 opener at Florida State.
Entering Saturday night, the biggest question mark for both squads was the offensive line play. But at the end of the day, it was the Gator O-line that outplayed their front-five counterparts, allowing just one sack. As for the Miami’s young, inexperienced front, they struggled all night to slow defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s pass rush and were hit with several costly penalties.
Overall, Miami was flagged 14 times for 125 yards with several coming at very inopportune moments for the unranked Canes. A lengthy run into the Florida red zone by Cam Harris was negated by a hold. A fourth-quarter fake field goal run by Bubba Baxa inside the 5-yard line, combined with a late hit by Florida should have put Miami inside the 2-yard line with a 1st-and-goal but a hold moved the ball back to the 11. In both cases, a touchdown would have given Miami a 10-point lead, but instead, allowed the Gators to hang around.
Following Baxa’s fake, the sophomore kicker was given another try from 27-yards but pushed his kick wide-right, keeping the Miami lead at 20-17.
Florida immediately answered with a 4-play, 80-yard drive to retake the lead at 24-20 with 8:18 remaining. The score coming on a 3-yard keeper by Franks. That would be the final points of the evening as Williams was unable to get comfortable in the pocket thanks to an attacking Gator defense.
When given time to throw, the Lawrenceville, Ga native proved extremely accurate, finishing 19-of-29 for 219 yards with one score and no interceptions. Meanwhile, Franks was 17-for-27 with 254 yards, two scores and a pair of picks.
Williams started 5-for-5, leading Miami to a field goal on its opening drive of the game, but the remainder of the first quarter was all Florida. The Canes appeared to force a quick 3-and-out but Mullen rolled the dice, picking up the first down with a fake punt to set up a 66-yard catch-and-run by Kadarius Toney on the very next play.
Leading 7-3, the Gators would convert two more fourth downs and were on the doorstep of a 14-3 advantage until defensive end Scott Patchan came up with a momentum-swinging fumble recovery on the exchange by Franks and Lamical Perine. At the time of the miscues, Florida was outgaining Miami 120-62 overall and 40 to -3 on the ground but the “Turnover Chain 3.0” flipped the script for the Miami offense, who outgained Florida 138-24 over the final 11:41 of the half.
Still trailing 7-3, another Gator fumble set up a 42-yard field goal to pull within a point. Baxa’s kick came on the heels of a 24-yard run by DeeJay Dallas out of the Wildcat formation to move Miami deep into Florida territory. Sparked by a pair of turnovers, the Canes defense forced its first three-and-out, handing the ball back to Williams at his own 10-yard line with 6:53 remaining before the break.
The first-time starter would lead Miami on a 12-play, 90-yard drive, highlighted by an 18-yard connection to Thomas and a 40-yard screen to Dallas, setting up a 25-yard scoring strike to Jordan to give the Canes a 13-7 halftime advantage. The go-ahead touchdown came on 1st-and-20 when Williams’ pass was deflected by a Florida linebacker but Miami caught a break when the pass fell into the arms of the sophomore tight end, who slipped a tackle at the six and waltzed into the endzone.
Miami allowed a field goal after a false start penalty went uncalled on Florida’s fourth fourth-down conversion of the night. Still leading by three, the usually sure-handed Jeff Thomas muffed a punt inside the 10, setting up an 8-yard strike over the middle from Franks to Perine to give the Gators a 17-13 lead.
Dallas was the game’s leading rusher with 95 yards and a score on 12 carries. His lone touchdown came on a 50-yard scoring run, putting the Hurricanes back in front 20-17 with 14:15 to play. Jordan finished with 88 yards and a score on five catches and the Miami defense forced four turnovers, but it wasn’t enough to knock off its in-state rival.
The Canes are off next week but travel to Chapel Hill for the ACC Coastal opener on Sept. 7. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. The game will be televised on the ACC Network.