After 15 minutes inside Sun Life Stadium, No. 12 Florida’s ballyhooed defense was on its heels.
The Gators surrendered 143 yards in the first quarter of Miami’s 21-16 win Saturday, as Canes quarterback Stephen Morris picked apart UF’s secondary for a pair of touchdowns.
But UF’s suffocating eventually found its feet, and the resilient unit — led by a dominating defensive line — thwarted Miami’s high-octane attack and kept the turnover-laden Gators in the game.
The Hurricanes totaled 212 yards — 69 yards after the opening quarter.
“We embrace it as a defense,” senior cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. “We stopped them a few times and got the offense back the ball. That’s what defense is. We don’t panic.”
Florida’s defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell controlled the line of scrimmage, especially on third down.
At one point, UF forced four consecutive three-and-outs, and the Canes converted just a single third down (1 of 11) on the afternoon.
But the Gators didn’t start fast.
UF mostly held UM tailback Duke Johnson in check — 59 yards on 21 carries — but the sophomore gained 26 yards on Miami’s opening touchdown drive.
“You lose as a team and you win as a team,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “We gave them what they needed early in the game. That’s on our defense. We didn’t play worth a dang to start the game.”
Linebacker Michael Taylor said: “If they don’t score. They don’t win. It’s as simple as that. If we’ve got to hold them to zero, we’ve got to hold them to zero. We’re a team. We’re not an offense. We’re not a defense. We’re a team.”
Under Muschamp, the Gators usually play with lots of emotion and energy but also without much poise.
Florida — ranked 114th nationally in penalty yards per game in 2012 (68.8) — again played out of control in the rivalry game.
The Gators committed 10 penalties for 70 yards, including a pair of debilitating personal fouls from veterans — Easley and tight end Clay Burton.
Burton’s late-hit negated a possible touchdown drive, and Easley’s roughing the passer assisted Miami’s first scoring opportunity.
Gators tailback Matt Jones was a preseason all-conference pick, but after missing the majority of training camp with a serious viral infection the sophomore made his 2013 debut against the Hurricanes.
It didn’t go too well.
Jones gained 53 yards on 18 carries and had a critical fumble on UF’s first possession.
Jones looked rusty, tentative and nothing like the back that ran with serious authority against Florida State last year.
“It was his first game back,” Muschamp said. “The fumble, we need to hold onto the ball.”
Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries did not play in the second half (sore MCL). Late in the fourth quarter, Florida’s starting right tackle Tyler Moore went down with an ankle injury.
Muschamp said afterward he didn’t believe Moore’s injury was serious, but the sophomore lineman was seen leaving the stadium in a walking boot and crutches.
Starting cornerback Marcus Roberson, a St. Thomas Aquinas standout, also left the game with a knee injury (sprained PCL).
Redshirt junior wideout Solomon Patton tallied career highs in receptions (6), yards (118) and touchdowns (1, a first).
Patton entered the game with 79 career receiving yards, nearly doubling his total on a diving 46-yard grab.
“Solomon showed up,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy that we need to continue to get the ball too.”