Gators struggle on defense but rally for win
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.”
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.