The eighth-ranked Florida Gators kicked off the 2019 season by hanging on for a 24-20 victory over the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday at Camping World Stadium.
Coming off a 10-win campaign in Dan Mullen's first year as head coach, expectations are understandably high for the Gators. They started the year in the Associated Press preseason Top 10 for the first time since 2013.
Florida's defense picked apart Miami's offensive line, sacking Jarren Williams 10 times. That group held things down through the first three quarters until quarterback Feleipe Franks came alive. The junior threw for 254 passing yards overall, with 150 coming in the second half.
Franks still has a long way to go as a passer because he also threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter. His second one was particularly egregious, coming on the first play after Miami turned the ball over on downs trailing by four with 4:30 remaining.
Florida Not Ready to Join Nation's Elite Programs
When a program starts a season ranked in the Top 10, it would seem to indicate it's expected to at least be in the conversation for a College Football Playoff spot.
It wasn't an unreasonable expectation for Florida after finishing last year No. 7 in the AP poll. The team brought back 14 starters from that squad. Franks finished the season on a high note, completing 64.9 percent of his attempts for 862 yards and eight touchdowns over the final four games.
ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit predicted big things for Franks in 2019 on The College Football Podcast (h/t 247Sports' Sam Hellman):
"There's a lot to be excited about there. I've got to believe that Dan Mullen has basically taken Feleipe Franks from that Michigan game and said, 'okay, look at the film. Look at yourself early in the year and look at this now. Look at you against Florida State. Look at you here against Michigan.' I guarantee he just drilled it into his mind. That's who you're going to be. You're going to take it to a different level ... Feleipe Franks is ready to use that as a springboard into this year."
The Gators started the game well with Kadarius Toney taking advantage of sloppy tackling by Miami on a 66-yard touchdown in the first quarter:
ESPN's Andrea Adelson offering this assessment at the end of the first half: "Florida did not look like the No. 8 team in the country in the first half against Miami, and after hearing all offseason about how much more explosive the offense would be with a changed Feleipe Franks—the Gators have just seven points to show for their effort."
Florida's strength on offense last year was running the ball. The team finished 27th in the nation with 213.2 yards per game on the ground. Lamical Perine averaged 6.2 yards per attempt.
Miami's defense held Perine in check with 42 yards on 10 attempts. The group also forced four turnovers to give the offense a chance to win.
Playing a rebuilding Hurriances team was supposed to afford Florida an opportunity to work out some of those initial kinks in the first game of the season.
Instead, Miami was able to showcase its defensive aptitude and zero in on the things Florida doesn't do well to prove the No. 8 team in the country has a lot of things to fix if it wants to live up to that billing in 2019.
Jarren Williams Proves He's Right Answer for Miami QB
It was a surprise when Williams, a redshirt freshman, won Miami's quarterback job over Ohio State transfer Tate Martell.
In his first career start, Williams justified head coach Manny Diaz's decision. He was 19-of-30 for 214 yards passing and one touchdown. The game's first drive was conservative, but it worked as Hurricanes put up a field goal.
Miami's most successful drive was its final effort before halftime. Williams capped the 12-play, 90-yard march with a strike to Brevin Jordan for the touchdown.
There were moments when Williams showed his youth. He took an 11-yard sack and had a delay-of-game penalty on consecutive plays during Miami's second drive.
As the contest went on, though, Williams began to settle in even without the support of his offensive line.
Miami is going through a multiyear process to get back to prominence in the ACC. Williams will be an essential piece of the puzzle when he gets more experience and his protection improves.
Expectations weren't high for Miami coming into this season, but Saturday's performance by Williams looks like the start of something positive for the program.
Miami will play an early season ACC game Sept. 7 against North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium. FCS program UT-Martin will visit Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Sept. 7.