University of Florida

Special teams propel Gators to victory

Florida running back Dameon Pierce gets past the Colorado State defense for a 68-yard touchdown run during the second half of Saturday’s game.
Florida running back Dameon Pierce gets past the Colorado State defense for a 68-yard touchdown run during the second half of Saturday’s game. AP

Ryan Stonehouse lined up at the Colorado State 35-yard line for a routine punt.

In came Florida freshman Amari Burney just in time to throw off Stonehouse’s routine and knock the ball back into the end zone with the punter unable to do anything. Florida receiver Tyrie Cleveland recovered the ball in the end zone to give the Gators six points.

A handful of those special teams plays propelled the host Gators (2-1, 0-1 SEC) to a 48-10 win over Colorado State on Saturday.

Despite the lopsided victory, it was an abysmal start for both teams.

Florida’s offense had just 27 yards rushing and zero passing through the first 15 minutes, but a pair of forced turnovers gave Florida a 6-0 lead to end the first quarter.

That opening quarter featured the first special teams mishap by Colorado State after it went three-and-out on its first drive. Outside linebacker James Houston forced the fumble on a mishandled punt by Stonehouse, and Josh Hammond jumped on the ball to give Florida possession at the 11-yard line. It was Houston’s second forced fumble in as many games.

But the drive ended when quarterback Feleipe Franks unable to connect with tight end C’yontai Lewis on a back shoulder throw. Kicker Evan McPherson converted the field-goal attempt.

Franks’ first completion of the game didn’t come until early in the second quarter, though he finished the day 8 of 15 with 119 yards. He completed two touchdown passes with one interception.

The Gators found the end zone for the first time thanks to a 30-yard rush down the left side by running back Jordan Scarlett in the second quarter.

UF settled into the game from that point, totaling 341 yards in addition to three fumble recoveries.

Florida’s secondary took a hit last week when sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson went down with an ACL tear. And it struggled in the win against the Rams. Colorado State’s first touchdown drive came thanks to missed tackles on a play-action pass by quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels to wide receiver Trey McBride.

But the difference in special teams play kept the Gators out of reach of Colorado State.

A costly mistake by the Rams’ punt coverage unit allowed Freddie Swain to return a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was the fourth-longest punt return in program history, and it put Florida up 34-10.

But the Gators weren’t done from there, they piled on two more touchdowns — a catch by receiver Van Jefferson and a run by Dameon Pierce — to seal the home victory and Dan Mullen’s second win as Florida’s head coach.

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