The likelihood of wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland scoring against Colorado State on Saturday was probably pretty high. Hardly anybody could’ve predicted it’d come via special teams.
Fort Collins, Colorado, isn’t known for much. It has an earth science museum and several wal…
The visiting Rams tried to punt from their own 24 with little more than three minutes before halftime. Amari Burney came flying through the blocking scheme to get a hand to the punt. Moments later, Cleveland hopped on the ball just before it leaked it out of the back of the end zone.
The special teams touchdown broke open a 27-0 lead for the Florida Gators (2-1), as they defeated Colorado State soundly 48-10.
“Special teams had a wonderful day today. That's a really big plus for us,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. "Nobody talks about being on the right shield, but that's one of the most important things. It's just as important as being a quarterback.”
Turnovers and special teams helped buoy a sinking offense that sputtered early on with a slew of three-and-outs.
Franks went 0-for-6 passing with an interception in the first quarter and finished 8-of-15 with 119 yards and two touchdowns. His touchdown total reached nine for year, matching his total in 11 games from last season.
“I’m not going to pull him (Franks) for throwing picks or making mistakes,” coach Dan Mullen said. “That’s teaching and we need to coach and teach that. It’s his confidence level and how he learns and grows and carries himself as a quarterback is most important.”
Alternatively, the Rams (1-3) had five first downs and 60 yards through 15 minutes, but a pair turnovers and missed field goals kept its tally at zero.
UF racked up 24 points on special teams alone and had three takeaways that were turned into 13 points. James Houston forced a fumble on a botched punt attempt that was recovered by Josh Hammond. It gave Florida the ball at the CSU 11 yard line, but another dropped pass on third down ‒ this time by C’yontai Lewis in the end zone ‒ forced a field goal, and Florida limped out to a 3-0 lead.
Colorado State drove down the field on the next possession only to miss a 41-yard kick, and Franks tried to respond on the next drive. The quarterback picked up a first down with his legs, but when he had Hammond open on a deep post, he delivered the ball late and behind his receiver to give possession right back to the visitors.
CSU quarterback K.J. Carta-Williams then muffed the snap on first down, and an Elijah Conliffe recovery gave UF great field position on the opposing 29. A three-play, minus-2-yard drive sent the kicking unit back on the field, and Evan McPherson converted a 48-yard field goal.
Rams kicker Wyatt Bryan missed his second field goal early in the second, a 54-yard attempt.
The wide-right kick proved vital, as the Gators took over and got Franks going with an eight-yard dump-off to tailback Malik Davis and a 24-yard strike to receiver Van Jefferson. Scarlett then took a handoff on a counter around left tackle Martez Ivey and was escorted to the end zone by Lewis, his lead blocker.
Florida didn’t look back from that point on, beginning in plus territory on the very next drive thanks to a 22-yard punt return by Freddie Swain. Four runs supplemented by a screen pass took the Gators to a first down on the Rams’ 18. A blown assignment by the defense led to Swain being all alone in the end zone for another UF touchdown that helped make it a 20-0 ballgame.
Swain put an end to Florida’s second-half scoring drought in the fourth quarter. The junior fielded a punt at his own 15 and weaved his way through CSU’s coverage team for a touchdown.
A 38-yard pass from Franks to Jefferson and 68-yard jaunt by freshman Dameon Pierce, his first career touchdown on his first carry of the night, iced the game for the Gators, pushing the score to its 48-10 final.
“He’s a funny kid and he works hard every week just like the rest of these backs,” Scarlett said about Pierce. “I was glad to see him get in the game and play.”
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr or contact him at [email protected].