By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent
ATLANTA — Despite his decision to turn pro earlier this month, Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson never considered sitting out Saturday’s Peach Bowl.
While four Michigan players missed the game to prepare for the NFL draft, Gardner-Johnson helped lead the No. 10 Gators to a 41-15 win over seventh-ranked Michigan.
He was named Peach Bowl Defensive MVP after making five tackles and two interceptions, including a pick-six in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
“It was a one high with me and the safety exchanging,” Chauncey-Garnder Johnson said. “He read it as the safety would sit there. We rolled, and I just speed turned, ball came right to me.
“We wanted to go out there and hold our ground. Give us a blade of grass and we’ll defend it. That’s what we did.”
It was the second standout performance for Gardner-Johnson in postseason play. He was named Outback Bowl MVP as a freshman for making two interceptions and a pick-six against Iowa.
After a 4-7 record last season, Gardner-Johnson was grateful to go out in style.
“It’s been a ride,” he said. “Winning a bowl game now, a New Year’s Six bowl, it just shows you the growth, because you’re going to take some bumps along the road.
“A lot of the guys will be around next year, and they can lead the younger guys. … This game right here, it’s one step closer to the program being back to where it was.”
Feleipe Franks totes the rock
Florida quarterback Feliepe Franks earned Offensive MVP honors for his showing against the Wolverines.
He threw for 173 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-23 passing, but also did damage on the ground. Franks rushed for a season-high 74 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
“He did a great job running the ball. That was awesome to see,” right tackle Jawaan Taylor said of Franks. “He’s a great quarterback and he came out from the first play and told us, ‘Let’s go.’ We just followed him.”
Franks had a few key runs in the game, including his 20-yard TD late in the second quarter to put Florida up 13-10 before half. Gators coach Dan Mullen revealed after the game that Franks called an audible for himself to score.
“He changed it. We had a different play called,” Mullen said. “He has the green light if he sees something like that, that they’re giving us. If you see a look they’re going to give us a play, you can take it at any time. Feleipe did a good job of calling that right there.”
With his two touchdowns Saturday, Franks finished 2018 with 2,807 total yards (2,457 passing) and 31 combined touchdowns (24 passing). He’s come a long way from his first career game against Michigan in the 2017 season opener.
His success this fall comes as no surprise to wide receiver Van Jefferson, who would have throwing sessions with Franks in the indoor practice facility until 1 a.m.
“When I first came here,” Jefferson said, “people were telling me, ‘Why are you going to Florida? Feleipe is not going to get you the ball.’ But his progression from last year to this year, it shows.
“People will talk about how bad of a quarterback he is, but he’s really not. He comes in to work every day, he’s on top of his stuff and he just wants to get better. It showed today and that’s why he’s MVP.”
More experience for Emory Jones
Franks’ productive day and Florida’s big margin allowed Emory Jones to get some action in the Peach Bowl.
The freshman quarterback played in the first series of the second quarter and relieved Franks before the final possession. Jones rushed four times for 14 yards and did not attempt a pass.
“It was great experience to come out here and get some playing time,” Jones said after the game. “I just did what I could in the moments that I had to help the team. We got a big win.”
The Peach Bowl was his fourth time playing in 2018, allowing him to keep his redshirt. Jones said he likes the games Mullen chose to use him in this year, particularly the last two.
He rushed a few times against Charleston Southern and Georgia, but threw for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the blowout win over Idaho.
“It was a great season,” Jones said. “I learned a lot, especially at the end of the season. It definitely helped me develop and I feel like it’s just going to get better from here.”