ORLANDO — No. 8 Florida came into Saturday’s game against unranked Miami hoping to put the Gator Standard on display for the entire college football world to see.
Somehow, some way, they managed to survive for a most improbable win. But if this is the Gator Standard we’ve been hearing about, it certainly needs a lot of work, a lot of polish and probably a lot of patience for all involved, including the fans.
The Gators pulled out a 24-20 victory at Camping World Stadium in spite of themselves.
In spite of their four turnovers — two fumbles and two Feleipe Franks interceptions.
In spite of major (and dumb) penalties at crucial moments in the decisive fourth quarter that gave Miami late life.
In spite of allowing Miami to convert a fourth-and-34 with 1:45 to play when it appeared the game was basically over.
But, in the end, all that probably matters is the Gators found a way to win a game that seemed lost at certain times over the course of this hot and humid evening.
“That last five minutes of the game I aged like 10 years,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “We did a good job keeping their offense on the field by turning the ball over.”
UF did not secure the win until buck defensive end Jeremiah Moon pressured UM quarterback Jarren Williams into a harmless incompletion behind the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-12 from the Gator 26 with only 12 seconds remaining.
It culminated in a dramatic final drive for the Hurricanes where it almost appeared the Gators were trying to give the game away.
There was the interference call on cornerback Marco Wilson on the fourth-and-34 play. The foul occurred well in front of the line to convert the first down. Had Wilson allowed the catch and made the tackle, the game would have been over. But the 15-yard penalty gave UM a first down, and new life.
Moments later, a pass interference call on defensive back Trey Dean allowed the ’Canes to convert a third-and-12 and put the ball on the UF 36. The defense, especially the pass rush, took over from there and closed out the game.
Miami had a chance to start that last drive thanks to Franks’ second interception of the second half. It came on the first play after the defense had held Miami on a fourth-and-nine from the UF 30 with a sack by Moon and Marlon Dunlap.
At a time when the Gators probably were looking to run some clock, Franks was rushed, hit, and threw a wobbler right into the hands of Miami safety Romeo Finley.
To Franks’ credit, he had come up big earlier in the quarter. At a time when the offense was really staggering, he launched a 65-yard strike down the middle to Josh Hammond that set up a 3-yard Franks TD run that gave the Gators a 24-20 lead with 8:18 to play.
Franks’ final numbers were OK — 17 of 27 for 254 yards and two touchdowns — but included three turnovers, the two picks and a lost fumble in the red zone in the first half.
UM got sometimes stellar play from Williams, the redshirt freshman quarterback. He threw for 214 yards and a touchdown. But he was sacked 10 times and the ’Canes had some struggles of their own in the red zone.
And when the Gators gave them opportunity after opportunity to steal the game in the closing minutes, the ’Canes failed to convert.
“We don’t have a maturity level to see a victory through,” UM coach Manny Diaz said. “That’s a maturing process we have to go through.”
The Hurricanes took a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 50-yard TD run by running back DeeJay Dallas. But following the first interception of the half by Franks, UM missed a chip-shot, 27-yard field goal. Franks then followed with his 65-yard dart and TD run to give the Gators the 24-20 lead.
The Gators got off to a fast start to the game, with Kadarius Toney catching a screen pass from Franks and taking it 66 yards for a touchdown midway through the first quarter for a 7-3 lead.
But UM dominated the rest of the half, outscoring the Gators 10-0 to take a 13-7 halftime lead.
UF regained the lead in the third quarter with a 27-yard field goal by Evan McPherson and a 8-yard TD pass from Franks to running back Lemical Perine.
The lead evaporated quickly with the 50-yard TD run by Dallas on the opening play of what would become a wild fourth quarter that the Gators somehow survived.