Florida football score, highlights, takeaways: No. 11 Gators shut down UT-Martin

By Adam Silverstein
September 8, 2019
Florida football score, highlights, takeaways: No. 11 Gators shut down UT-Martin
Football

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

It may have started slow, but Saturday’s home opener for the No. 11 Florida Gators (2-0) was ultimately just as successful as the experts predicted. Florida a 45-point favorite on the few sportsbooks that carried its Week 2 game, shut out the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks (1-1) 45-0 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

The Gators struggled to get out of the gate offensively with a couple curious coaching decisions and a complete lack of effort to move the ball down the field, but once they hit their stride, there was no stopping Florida from piling up the points on UT-Martin. UF scored at will down the stretch and pulled its starters for much of the second half en route to the team’s first shutout since 2017.

“Great win. It’s hard to win. That’s one of the reasons why you come out here. Every Saturday, 50 percent of the teams don’t win,” head coach Dan Mullen said after the game. “… We had a lead and had people sticking around through most of the game and getting excited gives us that home field advantage. I know it’s only going to get better as the season goes on. … We have some things we have to clean up overall. We’ll do that.”

Here’s what we can take away as the Gators have opened a season 2-0 for the first time since 2016.

1. Get-right game for Feleipe Franks: Much will be made of the redshirt junior quarterback’s stat line — 25-of-27 passing for 270 yards with two touchdowns (one of those two incompletions was a Hail Mary) — but the fact is that most of his passes were rather short. Still, when Franks did get an opportunity to crank the ball down the field, he succeeded. His 69-yard bomb of a touchdown to redshirt senior wide receiver Van Jefferson put Florida up 1-0 and started the onslaught of scoring. Franks hit wide open senior WR Tyrie Cleveland with a picture-perfect 35-yard pass later in the second quarter to put the Gators up 17-0 into halftime. More than anything, Saturday served as a confidence-builder for Franks, who was clearly the most polished of Florida’s three quarterbacks — all of whom played in the game.

“This is a tough team to throw against,” Mullen said. “They’re playing drop-eight all the time. I think that shows the maturity. We have eight guys dropping all over the place. You have guys running deep and five guys underneath in zone coverage, so they’ve got deep coverage and underneath coverage. You really have to take your time, and I think he did a good job of really not forcing things. I think he might’ve missed one or two throws down the field, but he didn’t force it and took what they gave him. We talked about it on the sideline, and I thought he’s really improved compared to this time last year.”

2. The defense did its job: It’s not a massive task to stop an FCS team like UT-Martin considering the vast talent differential, but what impressed about UF’s defense is that it bounced back every time it let up a big play or it appeared as if the Skyhawks were ready to put points on the board. There were numerous occasions in which drives were killed by key sacks (five on the night, 1.5 by senior defensive end Jabari Zuniga) or tackles for loss (10), and freshman defensive back Kaiir Elam registered his first career interception in the end zone to cut off a 55-yard drive, UT-Martin’s longest of the evening. Florida outgained UT-Martin 543-194 (312-140 passing, 231-54 rushing).

“I think we all stepped up as a group tonight,” said junior defensive back Donovan Stiner. “Shawn [Davis] played all free safety, and I played all strong safety tonight, which I usually don’t do. It was something we had to do, and we stepped up and did a good job.”

3. Fourth-down decisions confused early: Head coach Dan Mullen was aggressive on fourth down in the opener against Miami but chose to kick a field goal on UF’s first drive of the game on fourth-and-3 from the UTM 15. On the very next offensive series, 33 yards closer to midfield, Mullen went for it on fourth-and-2 from the UTM 48 and failed. Against a team like the Skyhawks, one would think Mullen would have Franks attack the secondary with his superior playmakers. It did not appear that he called a pass play longer than 8-10 yards for the Gators until midway through the second quarter when Franks hit Jefferson on the aforementioned pass. There was a lot of dink-and-dunk early in the game, which was a large reason why Florida only led 3-0 and looked sluggish early in the game.

4. Important injuries: Juniors athlete Kadarius Toney (arm) and cornerback CJ Henderson (leg) left the field in the first half. Mullen commented on their injuries after the game and appeared to indicate that Toney’s was more concerning to the staff than Henderson’s, which may be a sprained ankle. Here’s more from Mullen on the ailing Gators, who both wear the distinguished No. 1 for the team.

5. Odds and ends: That was the first time Florida and UT-Martin played in football … the Gators are 26-1 this century against first-time opponents with 20 straight wins … UF won its 30th straight home opener, continuing a nation-leading streak … Florida is 74-9 at home against nonconference opponents since 1990 … UF has begun a season 2-0 for the first time since 2016 … the Gators have won six straight games by a combined score of 214-59 … Florida is 9-2 against unranked opponents under Mullen … under Mullen, the Gators are 7-0 when scoring first, 10-0 when leading after the third quarter, 9-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer and 10-0 when outrushing their opponent … Florida has scored in 387 consecutive games, an NCAA record … Franks’ 15 straight completions to start the game were the third-most in program history and most since Chris Leak completed 17 in a row in 2005

6. Up next: Florida will look to avenge its stunning early-season defeat last season to Kentucky (2-0) when it travels to Lexington for its SEC opener. The Wildcats last year snapped a 31-game losing streak to the Gators and handed their SEC East rivals a shocking loss in The Swamp.

“Now, it’s really going to crank up 10 notches for conference play, especially to go on the road. Kentucky is an excellent football team, and Mark [Stoops] is doing a great job with that program,” Mullen sasid. “We have to really crank it up, and it starts on Monday morning when you show up. There has to be a greater sense of urgency for us. We have a good attitude; I just think we have to have more grind and sense of urgency to be exact in everything that we do.”

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