Call of duty: Gators lose Del Rio, but team up for SEC win

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Florida running back Lamical Perine scores a touchdown Saturday against Vanderbilt at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

A day that had the potential to turn dark and depressing for Florida ended up being maybe the brightest and most encouraging of the young season for the Gators on Saturday in The Swamp.

“Guys, that was fun,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “It was one of those games that our guys prepared well for. Our guys knew what they needed to do and they went out and did it.”

It didn’t look like any fun was ahead late in the first half, when the Gators lost starting quarterback Luke Del Rio to a season-ending broken collarbone and were trailing Vanderbilt 17-14.

But led by redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks and a suddenly strong running game that pounded out five rushing touchdowns, three by Lamical Perine and two by true freshman Malik Davis, the Gators turned their day around in a big way with a 38-24 win over the Commodores to move to 3-0 in SEC play (3-1 overall).

Maybe the most encouraging thing for the Gators is they actually won this game with offense. It was the offense carrying the defense for a change.

And the offense took control of the game when it looked like control could be lost because of Del Rio’s injury.

But Franks, benched a week earlier in the second half at Kentucky, came in prepared and led the Gators to a late 21-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro in the second quarter to tie the game 17-17 heading into the half.

The Gators carried that momentum into the second half, where they took the lead, 31-17, with two long touchdown drives — one culminating with a one-yard run by Davis, the other on a one-yard run by Perine in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

“Feleipe came in and took care of business,” McElwain said. “He handled it well. Obviously, that drive right before half was huge. He did a good job.”

Franks completed 10 of 14 passes for 185 yards and had the offense in a nice, positive rhythm throughout most of the second half that saw the Gators control the ball with those long scoring drives.

“He was ready,” sophomore wide receiver Freddie Swain said. “He had great composure, great energy. He just came in and stepped up.”

Earlier in the week, it looked like Franks might be spending a lot of time on the sideline after losing the starting role to Del Rio. But that all changed with one hit on Del Rio late in the second quarter.

Franks kept his head in the game during practice all week, then was prepared when he got the sudden call to duty.

“The other 10 guys did a great job keeping me confident, pushing the tempo, little things like that,” Franks said. “Luke made sure that I didn’t get down on myself and made sure I still prepared like I’m the starter, because it only takes that one play.

“You never want that to happen in a game, but it’s football and it did. Luke kept me up throughout the whole week to prepare for a situation like he had at Kentucky.”

Once he got on the field Saturday, Franks’ biggest support came from his offensive line and the running backs, who generated a strong, steady running game that took some of the pressure off Franks.

In his first collegiate start, Davis ran for 124 yards and the two scores. Perine rushed for 58 yards and the three touchdowns. The Gators rushed for 218 yards.

“I thought our guys ran hard,” McElwain said. “The guys up front are starting to get it. There at the end, I thought we wore on (the Vanderbilt defense) pretty good.

 “There have been bits and pieces (in previous games). As you guys have been up there watching, it seems like all of a sudden something will go haywire and we never can recover. I thought we recovered today. We didn’t let the negatives affect us.

“They got a little confidence the week before in that fourth quarter and kind of decided that, ‘Yes, we can.’ It was good to see that.”

The Gators sealed the victory with a 39-yard TD run by Davis on a fourth-and-one play with 1:42 remaining.

McElwain called that a teachable moment for the true freshman, because he should have gone down after making the first down so the Gators could run out the remaining clock.

“We’ll get that handled,” McElwain.

For the offense, which rolled up 467 yards, it was a feel-good day for a change. Not, so much for the defense, though. The Gators were shredded by Vanderbilt’s passing attack for much of the afternoon.

Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns, his third going to Nathan Marcus from seven yards out to make it a one-score game (31-24) with 3:14 still left to play.

“It wasn’t our best defensive game by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s call it the way it is,” McElwain said. “And, yet, the other side of the ball picked them up a little bit. That’s the way it should be. It’s a team game.”

It also wasn’t a good day for Del Rio, who missed the second half of last season with an injured knee and two injured shoulders and made it all the way back to be named the starter earlier this week. Now, his season is done.

“It’s hard,” McElwain said. “Just feel horrible for him. And, yet, the guys rallied behind Feleipe and that’s what we’ll do moving forward.”

For the Commodores, they were much more competitive than a week ago in a 59-0 loss to Alabama. But it still goes down as a second consecutive loss after opening the season 3-0.

“Let’s credit Florida,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “This was a game of attrition. This game was won and lost in the trenches.”


Up next

Who: LSU vs. Florida

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


19 COMMENTS

    • True, true. But it wasn’t last minute heroics this time. Maybe “drama” isn’t the right word…..maybe it’s “expectation” (of too good to be true).

  1. Would someone like to explain the end of the first half clock management? There was a minute and a half on the clock after VUs third down and no timeout was called allowing the clock to go down below 50 seconds. As a result of good fortune – it wasn’t a deciding factor – but the coaching decision baffles me.

  2. Good to see the offensive line block so well on run plays. But miles to go still in pass protection. And I guess blitzing is not part of the Shannon defensive scheme or game plan, and only soft zone defenses are allowed. Florida has lost a lot of aggressiveness on defense, it seems. But a win is a win. Keep it up Gators.

    • A couple of times our dbs played the ball well – but mostly they are running around like blind mice. And please do not ask them to tackle.

    • A few times our dbs played the ball well for nice pass breakups. Most of the time they are running around like blind mice. Please do not ask them to tackle.

    • Randy Shannon has never been a big blitz guy. I agree the defense is softer than it has been with little pressure on the quarterback position. Teams tend to take on the personality of their coach and the defense, like their coach, lacks aggression which is needed in this league. Shannon needs to adapt to the league.

  3. WOULD ANYONE EXPLAIN HOW A PLAYER RUNNING FOR A TOUCHDOWN IS A TEACHABLE MOMENT TO GO DOWN? DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN WHAT HAVE WE CHOSEN AS A COACHING STAFF? If you don’t want to score, take a knee….on wait, IT WAS 4TH DOWN!!! So you can’t take a knee, but you could have tried a field goal, but you didn’t, you ran a play and your player scored! HOW THE HELL IS THAT A TEACHABLE MOMENT???? IT’S A GREAT MOMENT AND A GREAT PLAY!!! Jim McElwain is an idiot and a poor excuse for a coach. Get rid of him now. Tomorrow is too late.

    • It was a teachable moment. Vandy had no timeouts, so once Malik cleared the first down marker, if he kneeled, we could have just run out the clock by kneeling on first and second down. Not a big deal and I’d rather have the stats anyway, can’t blame the kid. But Mac was right and the commentator agreed with him as well.

    • Now this is a “teachable moment”. If Vandy came back to score two touchdowns late Tommy Lowe would be screaming that Mcelwain should be fired. I can hear it now. “MCELWAIN IS AN IDIOT!!!! AN COACH KNOWS TO TAKE A KNEE TO END THE THE GAME THERE!!!!!!! POOR COACHING!!!! GET RID OF HIM NOW!!!!” The only idiot is Tommy Lowe. A poor excuse for a fan. Get rid of him now. Tomorrow is too late.

    • I don’t believe you should ever tell a player, especially a freshman not to score. It is one thing to take a knee with less than a minute and you could kick a field goal but to ask a true freshman to stop running wide open and fall to the ground does nothing for your team. The offense needs confidence and a two score gives them that.

  4. LDR, hate that you got that injury. After a tough rehab season, you stepped in, made some great plays, and showed some real leadership. Bravo, and speedy recovery.

  5. Great SEC win for the Gators! I’m glad the offense stepped up. The Gator defense, like they’ve been all season, was terrible once again . Typical comment by McElwain about the Davis TD. He just doesn’t get it.

  6. Take a knee? Scroll up to what Scobey wrote.
    Couple seasons ago Jim Bob had all his nole starters in the game late in the fourth quarter, game well in hand, scoring late for the blowout. You think vols or dawgs not going to run it up on us gators, if given the chance.
    Don’t see bama taking too many knees.

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