ORLANDO, Fla. -- Feleipe Franks thanked the crowd, Jabari Zuniga did the Gator Chomp and players celebrated with their fans in the corner of the end zone at Camping World Stadium following No. 8 Florida's 24-20 win over rival Miami to kick off the 150th college football season.
The Gators coach, while pleased with the victory, had a different reaction -- following a victory lap around the stadium, of course.
"The last 5 minutes of the game, I must've aged like 10 years," an exhausted Dan Mullen said in the postgame press conference.
For good reason.
The Gators turned the ball over four times -- Franks was responsible for three (two interceptions, one fumble lost) -- and tried their best to give the game away when Miami was in Florida territory twice in the final 5 minutes. One of those turnovers was an ill-advised pass by Franks under pressure that was picked off at the 44-yard line by Romeo Finley, who promptly returned it to the Florida 25 with 4:40 to play. Had it not been for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Al Blades for taunting Franks while he was on the ground, Miami would have been set up to at least get within one with time remaining.
"I think we did a good job of keeping their offense on the field by turning the ball over," Mullen said.
Luckily for Mullen and the Gators, 10 sacks and relentless pressure on first-year Miami quarterback Jarren Williams saved the day. On the final drive, Miami recovered its own fumbles three times and was bailed out on fourth-and-34 by a very questionable pass interference call on Gators defensive back Marco Wilson. The Canes benefited again by a less-questionable third-and-12 pass interference by Trey Dean. As if that wasn't enough, Ventrell Miller was initially flagged for pass interference in the end zone with 26 seconds left, but the was picked up after a brief discussion by the Big 12 referees.
"It seemed like we had to win the game about four different times, but we continued to do that. Really proud of that," Mullen said.
That defense won the game on Saturday, but that isn't something that can lead this team to an SEC East title -- or even contention. They say that a team improves most between the first and second game of the season. Florida better get right, especially with an extra off week.
Otherwise the likes of LSU, Georgia, Auburn and the rest of the SEC will heat up Franks in the hopes that he continues to make the same mistakes. Hanging on for dear life -- like they did on Saturday -- isn't the path to a championship for the Gators.
"You know what I loved? We made some mistakes, missed some tackles," Mullen said. "But we just kept going, kept straining hard every single snap."
Florida will walk out of Camping World Stadium with a shiny 1-0 record, the lone team in the nation with that distinction for a couple of hours. But if you take one look behind the shine, you'll see a record that doesn't gleam. It wasn't the cleanest game of all time. In fact, far from it.
In the end, Mullen feels the way all of us likely did when the final whistle sounded.
"That was a wild game to be a part of. Certainly reminded us [that] college football's back."