Ga­tors struggle on de­fense but rally for win

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY ALA­NIS THAMES Mi­ami Her­ald Writer


Feleipe Franks jumped up from the orange end zone at Ben Hill Grif­fin Sta­dium and im­me­di­ately lifted a fin­ger to his mouth.

For the sec­ond time in the game, the Florida quar­ter­back told the cel­e­brat­ing home crowd to be quiet.

He’d heard the boo­ing from fans in the team’s loss to Mis­souri a week ago. He’d heard the boo­ing just one quar­ter into the Ga­tors’ game against South Carolina on Satur­day.

“I’m a su­per-emo­tional player and that’s what it makes it a two-way street,” Franks said af­ter the game. “A lot of peo­ple are gonna like me and a lot of peo­ple are not gonna like me.”

But de­spite be­ing the cen­ter of fans’ dis­con­tent over the last two weeks, the red­shirt sopho­more was the least of the prob­lems for No. 19 (No. 15 CFP) Florida’s prob­lems in a 35-31 win over the Game­cocks that was much harder than the Ga­tors had an­tic­i­pated.

Franks’ ac­cu­racy throw­ing the ball failed him at times, but his legs never did.

He fin­ished 15 of 21 for 161 yards with 36 more yards on the ground. He had a pass­ing touch­down in ad­di­tion to two hard­fought rush­ing touch­downs.

Franks’ sec­ond-quar­ter TD was a phys­i­cal run in which he made a South Carolina de­fender miss as he ran over an­other de­fender on his way into the end zone.

“I’m out there, and in my mind, I’m think­ing just like, ‘I gotta do any­thing, any­thing to get that ex­tra yard, that ex­tra inch for our team,’ ” Franks said. “Like I said, they de­serve it.”

The Florida crowd got go­ing af­ter the score, hav­ing had noth­ing to cheer for be­fore then.

The Ga­tors fell be­hind 14-0 early in the first quar­ter be­cause of break­downs on the de­fen­sive side of the ball.

The Game­cocks quickly marched down the field on back-to-back scor­ing drives to open the game. Both ended in a South Carolina re­ceiver left wide open for a touch­down catch.

Those de­fen­sive strug­gles, in ad­di­tion to seven penal­ties for 55 yards, kept the Ga­tors be­hind the Game­cocks un­til the fourth quar­ter.

They sur­ren­dered 386 yards to South Carolina and al­lowed the Game- cocks to con­vert on 7 of 13 at­tempts.

But suc­cess down the stretch came in Florida’s abil­ity to at­tack a Game­cocks de­fense that came into the con­test ranked 12th in the SEC against the run.

“I thought we needed to have suc­cess [on the ground], and I thought we could,” coach Dan Mullen said. “Our backs were run­ning hard. And once we started to get suc­cess, we wanted to get up the field, play up­tempo and make quick throws and some shots.”

Florida’s back­field duo of Jor­dan Scar­lett and Lam­i­cal Per­ine com­bined for 266 of the Ga­tors’ 367 yards on the ground. Florida fin­ished with 528 yards of to­tal of­fense.

“When you can run for al­most 350 yards, you can win any game in the na­tion, re­ally,” Per­ine said. “So when ev­ery­body comes out and ex­e­cutes like we did in the sec­ond half, we can be a very good team.”

Those ex­plo­sive rush­ing plays opened up the pass­ing game and helped the Ga­tors claw their way back into a game that saw them trail by 17 points in the third quar­ter.

And when they aban­doned the run, they strug­gled.

Florida opened the third quar­ter with three rushes that set up a 19-yard pass from Franks to wide­out Tyrie Cleve­land. It was fol­lowed by a 25-yard rush by Scar­lett.

But three con­sec­u­tive pass­ing plays yielded a sack, two in­com­ple­tions and zero points as Evan McPher­son missed a 41yard field goal at­tempt.

But the Ga­tors’ sav­ing grace was an­other pow­er­ful rush­ing touch­down by Franks. He plunged into the end zone for a goa­head touch­down with 4:09 left in the game.

And a div­ing in­ter­cep­tion of South Carolina quar­ter­back Jake Bent­ley by de­fen­sive back C.J. Hen­der­son sealed the Ga­tors’ first win since Oct. 13.

“We just couldn't go out there and give up,” Hen­der­son said. “We kept play­ing un­til the last whis­tle.”

SAM GREEN­WOOD Getty Im­ages

Florida’s Jor­dan Scar­lett car­ries the ball. Scar­lett and Lam­i­cal Per­ine com­bined for 266 of the Ga­tors’ 367 yards on the ground in Satur­day’s vic­tory over South Carolina.

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