ORLANDO — The Florida Gators are 1-0. With a 24-20 win over Miami on Saturday night the Gators got the win, albeit a sloppy one. There was obvious rust and areas to improve but the Gators showed the strain and want and will to win that the coaching staff is looking for.
Here are five things we learned from Saturday night.
1. The pass rush is scary.
The Gators had 11 sacks on Saturday night and 17 tackles for a loss.
Losing Jachai Polite was supposed to be a big loss for the Gators but you wouldn’t have known that against Miami. Graduate transfer Jon Greenard was a force accounting for six tackles, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss. Jabari Zuniga added 1.5 sacks and six tackles of his own.
Sure, Miami had a young defensive line but the Gators’ pass rush was fierce and might be one of the best in the country when it’s all said and done.
2. Feleipe Franks is an enigma.
Feleipe Franks turned the corner. The embattled quarterback had won over his fan base and his head coach said he had made more improvement in the offseason than he had the whole season before.
Then 30 minutes into the first game of the season the fans wanted him gone, again.
Franks wasn’t perfect, at times he wasn’t good. He wasn’t as good as his stat line (17-27, 2 TD, 1 rushing TD, 2 int. 1 lost fumble). He did score the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and he did drop a dime on Josh Hammond for a 65-yard gain.
What did we learn about Franks? We learned that maybe what we’ve seen from him, the roller coaster games, the emotional outbursts, interceptions and big plays are going to continue. After 25 games and 22 starts maybe what we’ve seen is what we’re going to get and if it is, get used to it because Dan Mullen is hitching his wagon to Franks.
“You know what? I was pleased with a bunch of stuff with him. One of the things he
knows, we’re going to put the game in his hands. And there are some teachable moments in there and some things he can continue to learn. But I think he know we have the confidence in him to make plays. You know, one of the things I kept seeing from him is, even if things didn’t go right, if we made a mistake, he came right back firing.
3. Kadarius Toney needs more touches
The first time Kadarius Toney touched a football on Saturday night the junior slipped through the arms of just about everybody on the field and a couple of people in the stands on the way to a 66-yard touchdown.
Early on Dan Mullen looked like he was going to continue feeding the playmaker but toney finished the game with just four touches in total and one kick return.
He’s electric. He’s developed into a more complete player and he needs to get the ball eight times a game, minimum. He makes things happen.
4. The special teams might be the best in the country
Tommy Townsend executed a fake punt, scampering six yards for a first down. His punts pinned Miami on its own five and ten-yard lines and Evan McPherson was perfect. The most impressive part may be the buy-in from the team.
Senior receiver and NFL hopeful Van Jefferson is playing missile for the Gators on punt and he takes his job very seriously.
“Nobody’s bigger than the team. So whatever role that day is, just do it, give it 100%. So I just remember all the times, especially going through offseason with Coach Savage, just know your role, whatever,” he said. “Just me being a missile, I just take that 100% and just like me playing receiver, I’m gonna take it the same.”
That effort paid off when Miami receiver Jeff Thomas muffed a punt and Jefferson was there to fall on it. Two plays later the Gators had six points.
If you have great specilists and then get your starting wide receiver to buy in on special teams the way Jefferson is, you’re doing something right. Florida’s special teams will win them games in 2019.
5. Florida is going to need to get the running game going
The Gators rushed for 52 yards against Miami. Florida spent most of the night trying to tire Miami’s offense out by keeping them on the field, and Florida ran just 54 offensive plays because of that.
Still, Lamical Perine only rushed the ball 10 times, Franks rushed it seven and then the next leading rusher was, Tommy Townsend.
That can’t happen. The offensive line wasn’t getting a push and weren’t opening up running lanes. They need to be better. Dan Mullen’s offense is built around being able to run the football and Florida will need to do that much better than they did Saturday night.