ORLANDO, Fla. — Dan Mullen described Florida’s 24-20 win over Miami as a “fun” and “wild” game to be a part of on Saturday night.
But to most of the 66,543 fans at Camping World Stadium and the millions of others watching via ESPN, it was sloppy football.
Georgia fans who tuned in fell asleep salivating, visions of the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs extending their win streak over Florida to three games when the teams meet in Jacksonville on Nov. 2.
UGA, which opens the season at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday at Vanderbilt, is the two-time defending SEC East Division champs.
There’s a lot of football between now and the annual meeting with the No. 8-ranked Gators and plenty of room left for Mullen’s team to grow and improve.
Florida and the in-state rival Hurricanes took turns tripping over themselves on Saturday, leading to a frantic finish in a game that neither team truly deserved to win.
The teams combined for 23 penalties for 225 yards and were a combined 4-of-23 on third-down conversions.
Florida sacked Miami quarterback Jarren Williams 10 times, feasting on an offensive line with two freshman starters and keeping the redshirt freshman on the run all night.
Feleipe Franks, the Gators’ veteran quarterback, wasn’t much more impressive outside of a few crucial instances.
Franks was 4-of-4 on fourth-down conversions, but his biggest play of the game came in the fourth quarter when he hit Josh Hammond with a 65-yard pass. The deep ball set up the game-winning TD, which came three plays later on Franks’ 3-yard run.
But Franks also fumbled at the Miami 7 in the second quarter, costing Florida a chance to extend what was then a 7-3 lead, and he proceeded to throw two interceptions that kept the Hurricanes’ upset winds blowing.
Mullen took the blame for Franks’ second interception, which came with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter one play after the Gators’ defense stopped Miami on downs at the 36.
“You know, the last interception, he gets hit and, you know, I’m trying to think that shows what we’re trying to do, putting the game in his hands,” Mullen said. “I thought we had something there — we didn’t — he gets hit trying to throw it away. That’s on me.”
Miami coach Manny Diaz explained how his Hurricanes proved “we’re not ready to be a big-time team yet” by getting a 15-yard penalty on the interception return.
“(Then), on the next play, we get a 15-yard penalty for a chop block,” Diaz said. “We gave away 30 yards on really what might have been the winning change of possession.”
That made it first-and-25 at the Miami 45 for Williams and his overmatched offensive line, and three plays later it was fourth-and-34 at the Hurricanes 36.
Miami needed a miracle. Or, it turned out, another Florida mistake.
The Gators obliged with a pass interference that breathed new life into the Hurricanes, granting them a first down at the Florida 49.
Three plays later, on third-and-12, the Gators committed another pass interference and Miami had yet another first down, this one at the Florida 36.
Williams completed a 12-yard pass to move the ball to the Gators’ 24, but the Hurricanes got no closer. The Miami comeback hopes fluttered away with two incompletions, a sack, and another incompletion in the final moments.
“The last five minutes of the game, I think I aged like 10 years,” Mullen said. “We had to make the game–winning play three different times, and we were able to do that.
“It kept everybody tuned in for sure all the way to the final whistle, right?”
In a fun, wild and sloppy way, Florida and Miami did just that, kicking off college football’s 150th season in the process.
Florida coach Dan Mullen