Gators overcome turnover, mistakes, deficit, near coaches brawl

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) and teammates celebrate Satuday after the Gators defeated Vanderbilt 37-27 in Nashville, Tenn. [Mark Humphrey/Associated Press]

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On a day that started out looking like it was headed toward disaster, Feleipe Franks walked off the field at Vanderbilt Stadium waving a Gatorade towel wildly over his head in celebration.

As a gaggle of Gator fans screamed his name from their perch above the south end zone, he did a full pirouette, turning in a complete circle before rifling the towel into the crowd where an eager fan in orange and blue latched onto it.

It was another completion for a quarterback who is getting used to big road wins.

“It was pretty high,” he said of the distance up to the stands from the field.

And so was he, high on winning, high on a career high in passing, high on resiliency.

He is the unquestioned leader of Team Hold The Rope even if it looked for a while like he was slipping back into last year’s form.

An interception on a tipped ball killed Florida’s first drive in the Red Zone. His fumble set up a second-quarter Vandy score that put Florida in the kind of hole that looks just this side of hopeless, down 21-3.

“That was terrible,” Dan Mullen said of the fumble. “After the one turnover he got moody and (quarterback coach) Brian (Johnson) screamed at him. And that was about it, you know. And then he, he’ll tell you, he was moody. And then he just stopped.”

And then he started.

“I was pissed off because I fumbled,” Franks said. “I just wanted to get the ball back. I wanted to make up for it.”

He did, leading Florida to an unforgettable comeback Saturday.

It started with the drive after a fumble when he went 4-for-5 for 52 yards and overcame a bad sack to lead the Gators into the end zone. The swing pass to Lamical Perine that went for 63 yards just before the half helped pulled the Gators within a score.

But when the second half started with more of the same problems of the first half — nine plays in two possessions and one first down — Mullen went to his bag of tricks to stop the oil from leaking.

Tommy Townsend’s 18-yard run on a fake punt might have been the biggest play in a game full of them.

It was a play Florida practiced all week and Mullen called at the perfect time. Again.

“We needed some momentum, and it seemed like a good time to call it,” Mullen said with a shrug.

Ironically, Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said later his gut told him to try to block the kick. Instead, Townsend had nothing but artificial turf in front of him for the first dozen yards.

“Run hard and don’t go down easy,” Townsend said. ”As soon as I gave (his blockers) the ‘go’ call, it opened up perfectly. It was amazing.

“I’ve been really excited for this play call all week. We had to have the right look and we had the right look. I was so juiced up I didn’t really show it when I came to the sidelines (after the play), but in my head I was screaming.”

From that point on, it was a different game.

Franks drove Florida for a touchdown hitting Van Jefferson for a 38-yard score. Then it was Jordan Scarlett ripping off a 48-yard run for a touchdown and later Freddie Swain going airborne for another score.

Eventually, after all of the emotion of a game that got chippy between the coaches and saw Florida lose two linebackers to disqualification on one play, the Gators were left to celebrate on another opposing field.

The rope got held again.

“We just did what we had to do,” said linebacker David Reese. “The rope was slipping. We just had to dig our feet in the ground and know who we are.

“As long as we execute, we win the game.”

Simple, right? That’s one reason there weren’t a lot of banging helmets or rah-rah speeches in the locker room at halftime.

Because Florida’s deficit wasn’t caused by a trap game or the chill in the air or the time of the game or the 50-50 split of 30,000 fans.

It was caused by Florida making mistakes.

The emotions of the coaches going at it and causing the players to consider mixing it up had to be quelled at halftime rather than be used as fuel.

“We didn’t really stay with the plan to win as a team,” Franks said. “It just shows you the resilience. We just had to keep on working and go on to the next play.”

Mullen said his team didn’t have a great week of practice and we kind of saw that coming. The last three weeks had the intensity of a white hot star, the kind that can drain you.

Fortunately for the Gators, they were able to relight the pilot light just in time.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. You have been covering Gators for ever it seems. Still the most insightful coverage. Keep it up.
    You are doing a great job and it’s highly appreciated. Hopefully Dan Mullen can find the right path to get the Gators back on the winning track.

    Bob Bryan
    68 grad

  2. Yep, it appeared the perfect combination for a Gator meltdown: The small weird INT at the 2, followed by Vandy’s big plays and the stupid ref calls. I hope they’re reviews today (refs), cause them to get they’re butts beat by the SEC. They deserve much…calling some flags from across the field. Never understood a guy (ref) thinking he has to cover the other guy’s area from 40 yards away! Dan is doing his job by bailing out the O with his masterful play calling, BUT the start of the second half was not his finest moment. He play calling is the only thing making Franks work out. I guess that’s the way its suppose to be.

    Guys/Gals: Can’t get my mind over how bad it is in Bay and Gulf Counties. For months and years to come there will be no schools, hospitals, doctors, dentists churches, restaurants or any other kind of service or job in Bay County. Its so bad, the Governor has requested people to simply leave if they have a place to go. At least three of my family members have totally lost their homes.
    Gulf County is just gone. They are keeping the death toll quite, but its there.

  3. Real Headline: Gators overcome being picked to win by both Pat and Robbie.

    (Nashville) For the first two quarters, the Gators struggled under the PatRobbie Curse, bedeviled by the dark magic conjured up when these two diabolical prognosticators picked the Gators to win. Seen laughing with glee throughout the first half, Pat and Robbie reveled in their sinister power, but near the end of the second quarter head coach Dan Mullen and Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham performed the ancient Mother^%^%^ Ritual and cleansed the team, freeing them of the hellish curse unleashed upon them by the diabolical duo and unleashing the unstoppable power of the Now and Forever Mighty Gator.

  4. Good coaching change-up by Grantham . Vandy took away the blitz, and got the 75-yard screen cause of an over-run by the safety. But Grantham collected them and (other than 75 yd. pass and 48 yd. run via another over-eager DB) Gators held them to just 196 yds for 59 minutes. A lot of good things seen. A few things that are not there yet. REfs: Don’t blame refs. I see good and bad calls in EVERY game; football, baseball, basketball, hockey. Get over it.
    Gators now 6th nationally in pass defense vs. pass-happy Georgia. Something has to give. Should be another exciting cocktail party. Ooops. The politically correct say don’t use that term, even though it’s been around 70 years. So Ill say “the world’s largest outdoor party.”