Ga­tors roll, snap FSU’s 36-year bowl streak

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By Edgar Thomp­son Or­lando Sen­tinel

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — The Flor­ida State game al­ways meant a lit­tle bit more than the other ones to UF quar­ter­back Feleipe Franks.

The stakes also were higher than usual for the Flor­ida Ga­tors on Satur­day dur­ing their quar­ter­back’s first game at Doak Camp­bell Sta­dium.

With fam­ily and friends trav­el­ing from nearby Craw­fordville to cheer on their na­tive son, Franks and the No. 11 Ga­tors shook off some shaky mo­ments be­fore dis­man­tling the Semi­noles 41-14 to snap UF’s fiveg­ame los­ing streak to their in-state ri­val.

Franks fin­ished with three touch­down passes, all in the sec­ond half, as the No. 11 Ga­tors (9-3) stretched a slim 13-7 half­time lead into their largest mar­gin of vic­tory in the se­ries since a 27-point de­ci­sion in 2009.

Franks’ sec­ond-half per­for­mance might rank as his best stretch of foot­ball to date at UF, but the vic­tory def­i­nitely tops his per­sonal list.

“I’ve been want­ing to beat them for — I’ve al­ways wanted to come here and play be­cause I’m lit­er­ally from eight min­utes down the road,” Franks said. “So it’s al­ways been a dream of mine to come here and play against Flor­ida State. And like I said it was a big game.

“No­body on our team has beaten Flor­ida State be­fore and we came out and bat­tled and it def­i­nitely ranks at the top.”

Mean­while, FSU (5-7) rarely has been lower as a pro­gram.

The loss ended the Semi­noles’ record 36-sea­son run of bowl game ap­pear­ances and left them with their first los­ing sea­son since 1976.

UF coach Dan Mullen’s first meet­ing with FSU’s Wil­lie Tag­gart showed how quickly the for­tunes of each pro­gram has re­versed a sea­son af­ter both went through un­ex­pected coach­ing changes.

Mullen’s Ga­tors ended the day with 532 yards — their third straight game with more than 500 yards.

“I think they’re find­ing them­selves,” Mullen said of his Ga­tors.

Few play­ers have made more sig­nif­i­cant strides than Mullen’s em­bat­tled quar­ter­back.

On a dreary, over­cast day in Tal­la­has­see, Franks and the Ga­tors’ of­fense started off slowly against the Semi­noles. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions, the 20-year-old red­shirt sopho­more looked ten­ta­tive and held onto the foot­ball, even as re­ceivers broke open.

A ca­reer-long 74-yard touch­down run by tail­back Lam­i­cal Per­ine gave UF a 10-0 lead. Oth­er­wise, the first half was rife with missed op­por­tu­ni­ties as the Ga­tors man­aged just six points on three trips in­side the FSU 20-yard line.

But the Ga­tors quickly seized con­trol of the game to open the sec­ond half.

UF started out with six con­sec­u­tive run­ning plays, cul­mi­nat­ing with a 12-yard run by Franks to the FSU 32. A 16-yard com­ple­tion to Trevon Grimes moved the Ga­tors into the Flor­ida State red zone for the fourth time.

This time, UF found the end zone when Franks con­nected with Josh Ham­mond for a 3-yard touch­down to com­plete a 12-play, 75-yard scor­ing drive.

Af­ter the teams traded three-and-out pos­ses­sions, UF pass-rush­ing phe­nom Jachai Po­lite forced a third­down fum­ble of FSU quar­ter­back Deon­dre Fran­cois on the Semi­noles’ 22. On the next play, Franks found Grimes for a touch­down.

“I think he re­ally set­tled down,” Mullen said of Franks.

Mean­while, Fran­cois and the Semi­noles were rat­tled for the rest of the day.

FSU did cut the Ga­tors lead to 27-14, but Fran­cois threw two sec­ond-half in­ter­cep­tions and ended the day tak­ing five sacks, in­clud­ing 2.5 by Po­lite.

Po­lite now has 11 sacks this sea­son, two shy of Alex Brown’s school record set in 1999.

“That’s a man against boys,” UF de­fen­sive back Chauncey Gard­ner-John­son said.

Po­lite will have one more chance to break Brown’s mark. The Ga­tors be­lieve it should come in should be a New Year’s Six bowl game.

“Ab­so­lutely,” Gard­nerJohn­son said. “You look at it, we fought. We’ve been fight­ing all year.”

Bids will be handed out next Sun­day fol­low­ing Satur­day’s slate of con­fer­ence ti­tle games, but UF is well po­si­tioned to land in ei­ther the Peach or Fi­esta bowls.

Ear­lier this month, the Ga­tors’ fu­ture was less cer- tain. Since back-to-back losses to Ge­or­gia and Mis­souri ended its hopes of a SEC ti­tle, UF has won three straight games, in­clud­ing their first against FSU since 2012.

“I’m re­ally proud of our guys of bat­tling back,” Mullen said. “Af­ter that lit­tle stretch where you go to com­pete to be a cham­pion, and you think you’re go­ing to have an op­por­tu­nity to com­pete for a cham­pi­onship, and you lose it. Went on a lit­tle skid, and they’ve re­ally buck­led down from that point and fin­ished the sea­son strong.”

Gard­ner-John­son said he was con­fi­dent the Ga­tors would end the sea­son on a high note, de­spite some Semi­noles guar­an­tee­ing vic­tory last week.

“All week, we weren’t wor­ried about this game,” Gard­ner-John­son said. “We knew we were the bet­ter team.”

The fi­nal gun at Doak Camp­bell Sta­dium set off a long-awaited Ga­tors’ cel­e­bra­tion.

Gard­ner-John­son waved the school flag and at one point looked to plant it at mid­field. Franks joined fans in the south end zone, at one point bel­low­ing at the top of his lungs.

As UF’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, Mullen was key to f o u r c o n s e c u t i ve wi n s against FSU. This vic­tory as a head coach, though, was much sweeter — es­pe­cially given the Ga­tors’ re­cent run of fu­til­ity.

“I t ’s a g r e a t r i v a l r y game. It al­ways is,” Mullen said. “To be down there on the side­lines and get a win, to fin­ish off get­ting a win over your ri­val in Year 1 is huge.”

MARK WALLHEISER/AP

Flor­ida quar­ter­back Feleipe Franks (13) is brought down short of the goal line by FSU’s Jaiden Wood­bey (20) dur­ing the Ga­tors’ win Satur­day in Tal­la­has­see.

MARK WALLHEISER/AP PHO­TOS

Flor­ida wide re­ceiver Van Jef­fer­son does the Ga­tor chomp af­ter haul­ing in a 38-yard touch­down catch dur­ing the Ga­tors’ vic­tory over ri­val FSU.

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