It didn’t matter in that the Florida Gators (2-1) were out-possessed by Colorado State by over 17 minutes.
It didn’t matter that the Rams ran 39 more plays than the Gators.
And it didn’t matter that quarterback Feleipe Franks started the game 0-for-6 with a pick.
Why didn’t they matter? Because Florida’s special teams and defense stepped up in a big way in Saturday’s 48-10 win over Colorado State (1-3).
The special teams accounted directly for 14 points and indirectly for three more. The defense accounted indirectly for three points as well, and allowed Franks and the offense to eventually find its groove by continuously setting it up with good field position.
“Most importantly, you look in the three phases, we won the special teams phase of that game,” Florida head coach Dan Mullen said. “The one thing, you know, I love that of a team headed in the right direction.”
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 15, 2018
Special Performance from the Special Teams
Florida head coach Dan Mullen preached an emphasis on special teams throughout the summer, and that paid off for the Gators against the Rams.
In the first quarter, the Gators got great field position after they forced a fumble from CSU punter Ryan Stonehouse. Josh Hammond’s recovery gave Florida the ball at Rams’ 11 yard-line.
The Gators would only move the ball four yards in as many plays, but they still got points on the boards via a 24-yard field goal from Evan McPherson. McPherson himself had a good game, going 2-for-2 on field goal attempts and 5-for-5 on extra points.
The special teams didn’t stop its day there though.
Up 13-0, a 22-yard punt return from Freddie Swain set up the Gators at CSU’s 44. Swain ensued to cap off that drive with an 18-yard touchdown reception.
Florida’s next two scores came directly from the special teams.
The Gators made it 27-0 in the second quarter when Amari Burney blocked a punt and Tyrie Cleveland recovered it in the end zone.
Then came arguably the highlight of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, up 27-10 and with the Rams hanging around, Freddie Swain busted out a zig-zagging 85-yard punt return for a touchdown to essentially put the game on ice for the Gators at 34-10.
“I don’t think we’ve had a punt return here in a while,” Swain said. “It just shows everybody is working. Everybody is looking to get key blocks. Everyone is just trying to get one and take it to the house.”
🐊 Blocked Punt Touchdown
🐊 Punt Return Touchdown
🐊 68-Yard Rushing Touchdown
🐊 38-yard Touchdown Pass
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 16, 2018
Defense Bounces Back
“Defensively, I thought we were more physical for the most part today,” Mullen said. “… I thought we played physical up front, created some sacks and bigger plays.”
And create bigger plays they did.
They forced two fumbles on defense, recorded five sacks and nine tackles for loss, and held Colorado State to 1.7 yards per carry (42 carries, 70 yards).
James Houston came up big in the first half in the run game with some key tackles, and Jabari Zuniga was a beast in the pass rush, accounting for 2.5 sacks.
Florida needed that performance after last week’s showing against Kentucky in which Mullen called out the team for a lack of physicality.
They’ll look to continue that defensive fortitude next week for their first road game of the season: a primetime showdown in Knoxville against Tennessee.