In a game every bit as exhilarating and fierce as a Miami-Florida game should be, the No. 8 Gators ultimately took the prize — and bragging rights for at least five years — with a 24-20 victory in the Camping World Kickoff on Saturday in Orlando.
The game marked the opening of the 150th year of college football in front of 66,543 crazed fans.
There were five lead changes, four Miami takeaways, a missed 27-yard-field goal that would have given UM a 6-point lead in the fourth quarter and a muffed Miami punt return by Jeff Thomas that allowed UF to take a four-point lead.
And that was just some of the absurdity.
The teams combined for 23 penalties for 225 yards — 14 of them for 125 yards by the Hurricanes and nine for 100 by the Gators.
Hurricanes redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams, making his first career start in his second college game, was sacked 10 times, hit at least three more times and left scrambling a bunch behind a woefully inexperienced, deficient offensive line.
The Canes had three false starts, three delays of game, an illegal substitution, three holding penalties and a chop block among their miscues.
“The last five minutes of the game I think I aged 10 years,’’ said UF coach Dan Mullen.
Miami, which outgained Florida 308-306, had an opportunity to win the game after an interception by Romeo Finley with 4:20 left. But the Canes committed an unsportsmanlike penalty on the return and another 15-yard illegal block on the first play of the ensuing drive to move back to their own 45, leaving them in desperation mode. They got a far as the UF 24-yard line, but couldn’t score.
The Canes looked every bit the part of a new team under a head coach, Manny Diaz, making his debut — but they still fought to the bitter end.
“I thought our guys played with a lot of courage. I think they played with a lot of effort. But it doesn’t matter because we lost the game,’’ Diaz said. “We did not come here to play with courage and effort. We came here to win the game and it’s not OK at the University of Miami ever to lose to the University of Florida.
“Everybody in that locker room feels the pain of that right now.’’
Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks completed 17 of 27 passes for 254 yards and touchdowns to Kadarius Toney and Lamical Perine — and he rushed 3 yards for the decisive touchdown with 8:18 left in the game.
But Franks also threw two interceptions.
Williams was 19 of 29 for 214 yards and a 25-yard touchdown to tight end Brevin Jordan in his debut.
UM’s defense held the Gators to 52 rushing yards. The Canes, who were held to 94 net rushing yards, were led by DeeJay Dallas, who had 95 yards and a 50-yard touchdown on 12 carries.
And UF’s Josh Hammond, out of Hallandale High, led all receivers with 93 yards on four catches.
This might be The New Miami, but chances are Diaz will soon impart some ancient history to his players. Specifically, UM opened its 1983 season with a 28-3 loss to Florida — and then won the next 11 to earn its first national title.
That obviously doesn’t mean these Hurricanes will do the same.
What’s the one thing you anticipate needing to be solved first? Diaz was asked by ESPN before the game.
“Adversity,’’ Diaz said. “It’s coming and can we handle it because that’s something that we have not done great in the past.’’
After the game, UM’s coach indicated his players did improve in handling the havoc that the Gators heaped upon Miami, like the 65-yard pass from Franks to Hammond that led to Franks’ game-winning touchdown run.
“I thought our guys looked those situations in the eye, fought through them, and ultimately gave ourselves a chance to win the game with 10 seconds left in the game throwing the ball in their end zone,’’ Diaz said.
“Like I said, that’s what a big time program should do. You don’t pat yourself on the back for not quitting. But it is something. And that was a big point of our off season.”
Said Dallas: “Just too many mistakes. Too many mistakes. That’s really all I want to say on that.”
Down 17-13 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter after an 8-yard touchdown run by Gators tailback Perine, Tate Martell, seemingly converted from a quarterback to a wide receiver, took a fake handoff from Dallas in the wildcat formation. Dallas then sprinted 50 yards into the end zone for the fourth lead change of the night to put the Canes up 20-17 with 14:15 left.
Miami safety Amari Carter intercepted Franks less than a minute later, and UM got to within 10 yards of another score, but Bubba Baxa, who had hit field goals of 36 and 42 yards earlier, missed a 27-yard field goal attempt wide left and the Gator fans went wild.
Thanks to two Miami takeaways and Williams’ exceptional play in the first half, the Hurricanes not only stayed in the game, they went into the locker room leading 13-7 at halftime.
When Mullen was asked by ESPN where the Gators momentum went in the second quarter, he said, “Dropping the ball. We didn’t even have a turnover — we just [gave] it to them twice.’’
Redshirt senior Scott Patchan, making his first career start, had the first fumble recovery of a Franks blunder with a bit more than 13 minutes left in the second quarter. The gleeful Patchan then earned the third edition of the beloved turnover chain: giant gold links with a huge bejeweled “3-0-5” charm hanging from it.
The UM fans began chanting “3-0-5! 3-0-5! 3-0-5!”
Senior linebacker Shaquille Quarterman earned the next turnover chain with nearly 11 minutes left in the second quarter, when he recovered Malik Davis’ fumble. Five plays later, UM’s Baxa kicked his 42-yard field goal to put the Canes within 1 at 7-6.
Williams then threw his first career touchdown pass to Jordan. The ball skimmed off UF linebacker Jonathan Greenard’s fingers and into the arms of a leaping Jordan, who bounced off a tackle and into the end zone. The already buoyant Jordan was greeted by Miami’s first “touchdown rings’’ — a ring for each hand that spelled Hurri-Canes.
“Obviously it was a sloppy game,’’ Greenard said. “We’re at the beginning of the season. We got a lot of things to fix and correct, but that doesn’t take away from the drive that we have on this team. We’re going to do some really good things.”
Miami jubilantly went into the locker room, but the euphoria was not to last.