College football is finally, and officially, back.
In their first meeting in six years, No. 8 Florida did just enough to escape Orlando with a hard-fought 24-20 comeback victory over in-state rival Miami to kick off the 2019 season. Like many other Week 0 meetings too, the game had a bit of everything even if sharp play throughout was not one of them.
Turnovers, bone-headed penalties and a number of incredible touchdown scampers all served as highlights for the very first FBS game of the year and one that could set the tone for both programs in good ways and bad over the coming few months.
Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks was good early and late even if he was just so-so in the middle against a feisty ‘Canes defense. He wound up throwing for 254 yards, two touchdowns and two picks (with a rushing score as well) in the win, looking every bit like a player who may be better than a year ago but is playing behind a ton of new faces along the offensive line.
Wideout Kadarius Toney had the early highlight of the night when he weaved and spun out for a 66 yard touchdown catch while tailback Lamichael Perine was all over the field in rushing for 42 yards and catching a team-high six passes for 25 yards and a score as well.
If only Dan Mullen’s squad would have been able to hold onto the ball the final scoreline might not have looked so close. UF turned the ball over four times total, leading to quite a few appearances from the new-look Miami turnover chain.
That aggressive ‘Canes defense was as advertised for most of the contest even if they came up a bit short. While everybody knew that unit would hold up their end of the bargain, it was the offense that was the more pleasant surprise — and encouraging longterm development for new coach Manny Diaz. Quarterback Jarren Williams was sharp early and didn’t seem rattled at all by the stage in throwing for 214 yards and a touchdown. He did trail off a bit after halftime but considering the offensive line he was playing behind (one that gave up 10 sacks), it was still a fairly nice debut behind center and lends more credence to the thinking that Miami is the team to beat in the ACC Coastal.
Tailback DeeJay Dallas also contributed a nifty 50 yard touchdown as part of a 95 yard night on 12 carries while seven different receivers wound up catching a pass for a very new look offense.
The Hurricanes will still look back and think about all the ‘what if’s’ given the number of chances they had down the stretch in the fourth quarter but losing a close one to a top 10 team — even a rival like UF — doesn’t sting quite as bad when put in the perspective of last year’s disastrous run.
As for the victors, Mullen and company have to thank their lucky stars they escaped with the first win of the entire 2019 season in FBS given all the mistakes that were made. The Gators have plenty to clean up before the heart of their SEC slate approaches but it’s hard to fault the team too much for prevailing in a sloppy Week 0 meeting.