The walls were caving in on Feleipe Franks.
Stepping up in the pocket on a play that was essentially second-and-goal from his own 25, Franks couldn’t see Kentucky defensive end Josh Allen coming on his blind side.
Tyrie Cleveland’s pupils darted over the heads of about a dozen reporters who were fashioned…
Senior left tackle Martez Ivey missed a block, allowing Allen to corrupt Franks’ wind up for a heave that would’ve taken a decade of the rosary to go for a touchdown. The ball squirted loose and popped in the air. After much confusion, safety Davonte Robinson scooped up the ball and fought his way into the endzone, tacking a touchdown on his statline.
But the walls had been closing on Franks all game. The redshirt sophomore quarterback was forced to scramble and get rid of the ball all night, as he was hurried four times, sacked twice and completed only 17-of-38 passes in UF’s 27-16 loss to the Kentucky (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at home on Friday.
“It starts even just how we practice with the guys,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “When you’ve got scout periods, you’ve go to the other team’s looks, they kind of treated that as walkthroughs, and it’s not.”
There were outrageous plays and an incomprehensible field goal call, but the Gators ultimately wore down in the trenches under the lights at Ben Hill, as they survived the first half but faded along with their high-tempo offense in the first loss to UK since the stadium ‘formerly known as Florida Field’ was named Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in 1989.
Mullen said during fall camp he wanted to keep the run-pass ratio 50-50 this season, and the play count was 14-12 in the first 30 minutes if you don’t include the lone sack as a pass dropbacks.
Franks went 7-for-12 with a touchdown as Florida (1-1, 0-1 SEC) took a 10-7 lead into the locker room.
On the other side of the ball the defense benefitted from two turnovers in its own territory despite giving up 161 yards on the ground and didn’t register a single tackle for loss.
The Gators played more up tempo in the second half, handing it off or deploying Franks 15 times, but throwing the ball 26 times.
The quarterback was feeling much more pressure and mustered 10 completions, including an interception in UF territory and a four-yard touchdown to Freddie Swain.
Kentucky stuck with its game plan of pounding the rock with quarterback Terry Wilson and running back Benny Snell, who slipped away from lunging Florida linemen and backers and rushed 19 times on first down at a rate of 8.9 yards per rush. Kentucky netted 141 yards on the ground in the second half.
“When you miss tackles and allow them to continually move the chains that’s hard,” Mullen said. “We had opportunities several times to get them behind the chains and get off the field.”
The Wildcats worked their way into third and manageable situations. Their average distance on third down: 4.2 yards. Florida’s: 8.2.
One of the few times the Gators held Wilson in an obvious passing down was one third-and-11 from the UK 46. The Gators rushed four and WIlson lofted a 54-yard gut-buster over the top of the Florida defense. 21-10.
“We got no rush and we had a breakdown in the secondary,” Mullen said about the touchdown. “We had a safety there and he just got himself out of position… I don’t think we did a great job rushing the passer.”
The game was really sealed from there. Kentucky ran the ball 13 of 15 plays after the bomb. The other two plays were screen passes.
“I don’t know if the loss will hurt or help moving forward,” Mullen said. “If we find a way to get one more stop and we get the ball and score one more time, I’m walking in here and we still have the same physicality problem.”
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr or contact him at mstine @alligator.org.