No. 15 Florida scored three touchdowns in the final 16 minutes of the game to notch a huge win over South Carolina on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville, Florida. Quarterback Feleipe Franks went 15-of-21 passing for 161 yards and one touchdown, but he earned plenty of respect on the ground where he rushed for 36 yards and two touchdowns. This came one week after Franks was benched in the loss to Missouri. Jordan Scarlett rushed for 159 yards on 18 carries, and Lamical Perine added 107 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Gators to a much-needed win.
Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley was 18-of-28 passing for 239 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a losing effort. That one interception came on South Carolina’s final drive of the game, which essentially put it on ice for Florida?
What were the biggest takeaways from Saturday in The Swamp? Let’s take a look
1. Franks needed this: Let’s not start making comparisons between Franks and former Gators great Tim Tebow, but the redshirt sophomore did have some Tebow-esque moments en route to the win. He ran through several defenders to find his way to the end zone and dove over the pile to notch the go-ahead score with 4:09 left. “He doesn’t need to be a great runner, he just needs to be tough,” coach Dan Mullen said after the game on the ESPN broadcast.
Franks wasn’t just physically though, he was mentally tough. He likely would not have started had Kyle Trask not suffered a season-ending foot injury in practice earlier in the week. After nearly two years as the starter, Franks’s ineffectiveness had essentially cost him his job and support from the fans had disappeared. It clearly bothered him. Franks gave the “shhh” sign to the crowd and flexed his muscles during celebrations on both of his touchdown runs, and he flexed on South Carolina in the process.
Does this cement Franks as Florida’s starter moving forward next season? Of course not. He wasn’t exactly a difference-maker through the air, which has been the primary reason his support has dwindled. But he has heart, and Florida needed heart Saturday.
2. There’s still plenty on the line: The top-10 ranking and hopes for an SEC East title have long-since evaporated, but a New Year’s Six bowl is still in the grasp of the Gators. Whether fans think they deserve it or not, the CFP Selection Committee has a high opinion of Florida, and winning out seems more likely now since Idaho and Florida State are the only two teams left on the schedule. Getting into the top 12 shouldn’t be too difficult, which would likely secure a bid to one of the game’s most prominent bowl games provided there’s not mass chaos in conference championship games.
For Mullen, that would be huge in Year 1 — especially considering the drama on and off the field since the loss to Georgia. Isn’t that enough? It should be. Rebuilding efforts take time, even at Florida. It hasn’t been pretty, but it’s been enough to give Gators fans hope for the future.
3. There is still an issue for Florida, though: After the buzz from the comeback wears off, there’s a major problem that Mullen needs to address — the defense. For the first time since 1917, the Gators have given up 31 or more points in three straight games. Yeah, you read that right. It’s also the first time since 1999 that Florida has allowed its opponents to score 30-plus in three consecutive games.
In Saturday’s game against South Carolina, it gave up 6 yards per play to an average-at-best Gamecocks offense. In the first half, Bentley was consistently hitting wide open receivers downfield and over the middle. The defensive struggles led to the Gamecocks converting 7-of-13 third down conversions, putting Florida in a position where Franks and the running backs had to work several miracles to get out of The Swamp with the win.
On C.J. Henderson’s pick to save the game, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham backed off from a blitz — seemingly for the first time ever. When breaking tendency shocks everybody in the building, that’s a bug, not a feature. Grantham has to evolve, because he’s not getting the job done.