ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida edged Miami 24-20 in college football's season opener, and though it was messy (24 total penalties!), it was glorious at the same time. Three things we learned:
1. It is back: College football made its 2019 debut in swampy central Florida with a sloppily played affair between two in-state rivals, and it was great because it was football. The day began much earlier, of course, with College GameDay favorite Lee Corso opening the show wearing a giant Mickey Mouse hat from the middle of the Magic Kingdom. (He picked the Gators, by the way.) We got some good Michael Irvin madness, too. The former Miami star threw down on stage at a pep rally in downtown Orlando on Friday night. A video went viral Saturday morning of a fiery Irvin screaming into a mic, “We’ll come to your damn house, step on your throat and snatch out your damn heart! And that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow! We gonna go snatch out they heart!” College football, welcome back.
2. No passing grade: The Gators won, yes, but the excitement buzzing around top 10-ranked Florida, its veteran quarterback and explosive offense is no more. Little from the Gators’ late-season surge last year carried through the offseason, and this one likely gave no Florida fan much confidence. Many of the highlights for the Gators came on gambles by coach Dan Mullen, including that fake punt in the first quarter (and three other fourth-down conversions). UF’s issues go beyond a new-look offensive line, which many thought would be the biggest bugaboo. Its quarterback continues erratic play. Feleipe Franks was unnecessarily spooked from the pocket, missed receivers on clutch downs and threw an interception late that nearly cost the Gators the game. He looked more like the Feleipe Franks we saw the first 20 games of his career than the one we witnessed the last four. Florida coach Dan Mullen raved about the offseason improvement from his quarterback, but we didn’t see it come to fruition against a Miami defense that lost more than half of its starters from last season. In fact, the Hurricanes had four scholarship cornerbacks Saturday night, and the Gators were mostly incapable of connecting on deep balls, aside from a 65-yarder from Franks to Josh Hammond in the final nine minutes that resulted in the go-ahead TD. This looks anything like a top-10 team, especially with a grueling schedule that includes games away from home against Georgia and LSU.
3. The new Miami: The Canes flashed their newness, but not all of it was so great. First the good: a new running back (DeeJay Dallas is a stud), a new turnover chain (recognizing the south Florida area code, 305) and a new quarterback (Jarren Williams showed poise, elusiveness and accuracy). And now the bad: a new offensive line (it gave up 10 sacks). Let’s talk about Dallas, a junior who flashed one hell of a receiving radius on a 40-yard reception, showed off his wheels in outracing the Gators and displayed his strength in running over them. The 2019 version of UM’s turnover chain was unveiled in the first quarter: a diamond studded “305” hung from gold links. It emerged a total of four times. The Hurricanes forced three fumbles, recovered two and picked off two passes.
We now know exactly why redshirt freshman Jarren Williams beat out Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. Williams is impressive. He showed getaway speed, was accurate enough and put up one hell of a first half of football: 12 of 14 for 158 yards and a touchdown. A credit to UM offensive coordinator Dan Enos for crafting a game plan with a bevy of short passes and screens to comfortably settle in his young QB. In the end, the Canes defense gave up too many big plays late and their special teams literally dropped the ball (a muffed punt that led to a Gators TD and a missed 27-yard field goal).