University of Florida

Florida Gators doomed by turnovers in loss to FSU Seminoles

Florida State defensive end Brian Burns (99) strips the ball from the hand of Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida State recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown.
Florida State defensive end Brian Burns (99) strips the ball from the hand of Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida State recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown. AP

Feleipe Franks poked his feet in and out of the grass as he shuffled back in the pocket. With four yards separating his team from a realistic chance at victory, he heaved it to his left. To the sideline, where Florida receiver Brandon Powell made the over-the-shoulder catch for the score. What a moment it was. A rare sight in a season devoid of offense for the Gators.

It didn’t last.

Kicker Eddy Pineiro’s extra point attempt met the hands of Florida State’s Walvenski Aime and hit the ground with a thud. In a season where little has gone right and seemingly everything has gone wrong for the Gators, that second-quarter sequence embodied a lost season.

For the Seminoles, it represented a fighting spirit that withstood a late push by Florida to waltz to their fifth consecutive win over the rival Gators, 38-22, on Saturday in Gainesville. The win elevated the Seminoles (5-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) to probable bowl eligibility, which they can clinch with a win over Louisiana-Monroe next weekend.

Florida (4-7, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) lost any already-slim chance it had to reach postseason play with the loss.

The biggest storyline for the Gators was Franks, who played arguably the worst game of his young college career. The redshirt freshman threw three interceptions — one was returned for a touchdown — and fumbled, which also resulted in an FSU touchdown. He finished 18-of-39 for 184 yards and two touchdowns — one in garbage time — to go with his turnovers.

He composed himself at halftime after a rough first couple quarters and manufactured a strong third quarter, which brought the Gators within one score. But his third interception eventually resulted in FSU’s fifth touchdown of the day, which sealed Florida’s fate. That gave many of the officially announced 89,066 fans in attendance — the actual number appeared smaller — reason to flow out early, and they did.

The number of fans marked the first time since 2001 that the UF-FSU game in Gainesville drew fewer than 90,000.

Florida State’s true freshman quarterback James Blackman and the rest of Florida State’s offense weren’t much better. He finished 10-of-21 for 128 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. FSU’s rushers combined for 88 yards on the ground.

Florida State’s defense, though, overwhelmed Florida’s offensive line in passing situations and compiled five sacks. Florida outgained FSU 280 to 216, but the turnover margin was too much to overcome.

Florida’s offense ended a severe touchdown drought in the first quarter when senior running back Mark Thompson sliced into the end zone from 10 yards out. The touchdown was Florida’s first (on offense) against Florida State since the second quarter of 2014’s game.

Thompson led UF’s rushing attack with 63 yards. Lamical Perine and Adarius Lemons followed him with 21 yards each.

Those statistics mattered little when the game ended, and Florida’s fifth-year seniors trotted off without a win over their biggest rival in their five years of college football. For those left, the biggest focus for Florida now is who the next coach will be and whether he can rectify that and UF’s other problems.

Florida State’s seniors, meanwhile, celebrated another victory in a series they’ve never lost. So did FSU’s fans, who may have outnumbered Florida’s when the closing whistle blew and the Seminoles’ war chant echoed.

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