GAINESVILLE — Kentucky left the Florida Gators and coach Dan Mullen shell shocked and in search of answers.
Colorado State arrived a week later to give the Gators a much-needed boost of confidence and something to build on.
With an SEC gauntlet looming on the horizon, UF was far from flawless, especially on offense, during a 48-10 win over its overmatched Mountain West Conference foe.
“We have a lot of things to work on,” Mullen said. “This week we get to do it with a smile on our face.”
The Gators (2-1) were opportunistic.
UF scored 17 points against the Rams off special teams, a phase of the game that has received renewed emphasis under Mullen. The Gators’ resurgent pass rush tallied five sacks to rattle a Colorado State passing offense averaging 369 yards.
Tyrie Cleveland recovered a blocked punt in the end zone during the second quarter to extend UF’s lead to 27-0. Freddie Swain’s 85-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter pushed UF’s advantage to 34-10 and ended CSU’s remote hopes of a late comeback.
The Rams rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Arkansas in Colorado, but they wilted against the Gators in the sweltering Swamp.
A Kentucky hangover and the Florida heat led to a sluggish start for the Gators before an announced home crowd of 80,021.
The heat index at kickoff was 116 degrees during a steamy day in the Swamp. The Gators’ offense came out ice cold behind quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Colorado State entered the game allowing an average off 550 yards. But UF managed just 27 during the first quarter and settled for a pair of Evan McPherson field goals when the Gators failed to capitalize on turnovers deep in CSU territory.
A bobbled punt and forced fumble by freshman linebacker James Houston gave UF the ball on the CSU 11. The Gators settled for a 24-yard field goal after gaining just four yards, with a false start penalty by guard Fred Johnson effectively short-circuiting the drive.
Two series later, UF defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe recovered a fumbled snap on first down to give the Gators the ball on the Rams’ 29. This time, UF’s offense actually went backward, losing two yards on three plays before McPherson hit a 48-yard field goal.
Franks’ fingerprints were everywhere on the ill-fated drive. Following a two-yard loss on first down after a misread on a run-pass option, he threw consecutive incomplete passes. He ended the first quarter 0-for-6 passing, with an interception and a QB rating of minus-33.3.
“He’s got to do a better job of getting in the flow of the game,” Mullen of Franks’ rough start, noting the quarterback was playing just his third game running a new offense and improved as the game continued.
The Gators’ offense finally found its footing during the second quarter.
Mullen went to a two-back set with Jordan Scarlett and Malik Davis on UF’s first series and the Gators drove 65 yards on five plays to take a 13-0 lead, culminating with a 30-yard touchdown run by Scarlett. Franks also completed back-to-back throws, including a 24-yard hookup with Van Jefferson.
Franks ended the Gators’ next drive with an 18-yard touchdown to Swain, who was wide open in the end zone. Trailing 20-0, CSU began to falter in the Florida heat and in the face of UF’s pass rush.
A week after failing to record even a quarterback hurry against Kentucky, UF had three sacks during the second quarter — 2.5 by Jabari Zuniga. After Zuniga dumped Rams’ quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels for a 7-yard loss at the CSU 28, UF freshman Amari Burney blocked a punt recovered in the end zone by Cleveland.
The Gators’ hopes for a shutout ended with Wyatt Bryan’s 53-yard field goal limped over the crossbar on the final play of the first half.
Down 27-3, CSU capitalized on a depleted UF secondary for a 48-yard touchdown catch by freshman tight end Trey McBride. But the Rams’ rally ended there.
Franks later found Jefferson for a 38-yard touchdown to give UF a 41-10 lead. Franks finished 8-for-15 passing for 119 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Freshman tailback Dameon Pierce added the Gators’ final score on a 68-yard touchdown run on first down, but UF’s offense still has room to improve after finishing with just 341 yards.