The No. 9/12 Florida Gators led the No. 24 Miami Hurricanes in nearly every major statistical category on Saturday afternoon, but Florida’s massive amount of turnovers – especially in the red zone – became the stat that really counted as Miami took an early lead and never lost it in a 21-16 victory in Sun Life Stadium.
In what was the last time the Gators and Hurricanes will square off in the regular season for the foreseeable future, Florida committed six turnovers including one on downs and four in the red zone. Miami improved to 29-26 in the all-time series.
Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel threw two interceptions – one on 3rd-and-Goal at the Miami 11-yard line early in the second quarter and another on 3rd-and-3 at the UM 17-yard line with less than seven minutes to play. He also fumbled the ball on UF’s ensuing possession when he was left unprotected and rocked for a nine-yard sack.
Sophomore running back Matt Jones, playing his first game of the season after recovering from a serious viral illness that forced him to miss multiple weeks of fall practice, fumbled on his third carry of the game during the opening possession.
The Hurricanes responded to Jones’ miscue, completing a nine-play, 50-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass from QB Stephen Morris to WR Herb Waters.
The tide appeared to turn in favor of the Gators late in the first quarter when junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, returning to the field from a one-game suspension, blocked a punt that Florida recovered at Miami’s nine-yard line. Driskel ran in untouched for a touchdown two plays later, but a failed two-point conversion attempt by redshirt junior back-up QB Tyler Murphy left Florida trailing 7-6.
Unfortunately for UF (1-1), its defense remained unglued on UM’s next possession, giving up positive yardage on five of the next six snaps including a 52-yard touchdown pass from Morris to WR Phillip Dorsett.
Driskel moved the Gators down the field, hitting senior WR Solomon Patton for 46 yards, but threw his first interception of the game in the red zone. Following a three-and-out, Florida found itself in the red zone again, faced with a 4th-and-1 on Miami’s 16-yard line after three-straight runs by Jones. A keeper was called for Driskel, who was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
The Gators returned to the red zone for a third-straight possession as Driskel hit Patton on receptions of 17 and 18 yards during the 12-play drive. However, Florida coughed up the ball once again as senior WR Trey Burton fumbled after a short reception.
Spanning the half, UF’s defense forced UM (2-0) into five-straight three-and-outs.
The Gators took their first possession of the second half 44 yards and settled for a 33-yard field goal by redshirt senior kicker Austin Hardin, reducing their deficit to 14-9.
Though Florida was successful in getting Miami off the field, it began struggling to move the ball on offense and continued to fail in the red zone.
Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III picked off Morris with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game, but Driskel threw his second interception five plays later on the opposing 17-yard line.
Following a directional punt that forced the Gators to start from their 14-yard line with 5:28 remaining, Driskel coughed up the ball, a turnover that led to a two-yard touchdown by Hurricanes RB Duke Johnson.
Trailing 21-9 with the clock ticking away, Florida suddenly found its throwing game as Driskel chucked a 32-yard lofted pass to redshirt junior WR Quinton Dunbar and tossed a 21-yard strike to Patton for his first career touchdown.
The Gators’ on-side kick attempt was unsuccessful. Florida did force a punt and touchback, but Driskel was sacked on the ensuing play with 28 seconds remaining.
UF outgained UM 413-212 in total offense including 122-50 on the ground and 291-162 through the air. The Gators bested the Canes 22-10 on first downs and held Miami to 1-of-11 on third down. Florida also won the time of possession battle 38:20-21:40.
None of that mattered, however, because of UF’s five turnovers and inability to convert long offense drives into points. The Gators were just 2-of-6 on red zone opportunities and coughed up the ball four times in five red zone trips, earning just three points.
Penalties – 10 for 70 yards – contributed to Florida’s ineptitude. Many came at inopportune times, either stalling drives or changing momentum.
Driskel finished 22-of-33 for a career-high 291 yards with his two leading receivers – Patton and Dunbar – also setting career-highs in receptions and yardage. Patton caught six balls for 118 yards, and Dunbar – a South Florida native – hauled in seven passes for 98 yards while in front of friends and family.
It was the first time since Jan. 1, 2010 that two Gators pass catchers finished with more than 98 receiving yards in the same game.
Redshirt junior Sam linebacker Ronald Powell showed out with one sack and three tackles for loss on the afternoon. Sophomore Mike LB Antonio Morrison, back from a one-game suspension, led Florida’s defense with seven tackles (five solo).
The Gators finished with nine tackles for loss, a sack, interception and blocked punt.
Florida will now return to Gainesville, FL, in hopes of regrouping during the bye week. UF is set to host Tennessee at a yet-to-be-determined time on Sept. 21.