ORLANDO, Fla. – Miami quarterback Jarren Williams impressed in his first start, but it wasn't enough to overcome Florida's 10 sacks as the No. 8 Gators defeated the Hurricanes 24-20 Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.
Williams was 19-of-29 for 214 yards and a touchdown, keeping the Hurricanes in the game until the final seconds.
"I think you can see why we picked him to be our guy," first-year Miami head coach Manny Diaz told reporters after the game.
But the offensive line was overmatched against Florida's front, sending Williams to the turf four times before halftime and another four in the final quarter.
The redshirt freshman completed his first six passes and was a perfect 5-for-5 in his first series, leading the Hurricanes on a 9-play, 56-yard scoring drive that ended with a 36-yard field goal by Bubba Baxa.
But the Gators struck back on their first series, taking a 7-3 lead when quarterback Feleipe Franks connected with Kadarius Toney for a 66-yard touchdown strike.
Miami's defense took advantage of Florida's fumbles on consecutive series in the second quarter, first unveiling the new-look "turnover chain" after Franks fumbled the football at the Miami 9-yard line. Defensive end Scott Patchan secured the loose ball and raced to the Miami sideline to don the Cuban link necklace with the "305" charm.
After the Gators forced Miami to punt, running back Malik Davis fumbled on Florida's next possession and linebacker Shaq Quarterman came up with the ball, setting up Baxa's 42-yard field goal.
With a little more than a minute left, Williams hooked up with running back DeeJay Dallas on a 40-yard pass to Florida's 15-yard line.
After a sack and holding call backed up the Hurricanes, Williams connected with tight end Brevin Jordon on a 25-yard touchdown to take a 13-7 lead before halftime.
Florida tacked on three more points in the third quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Evan McPherson.
A Miami fumble by Jeff Thomas set up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Franks to running back Lamical Perine with 30 seconds to go in the third, giving the Gators a 17-13 lead.
Miami retook the lead in the fourth when Dallas bounced off a pair of Florida defenders and raced 50 yards into the end zone.
Amari Carter and Romeo Finley each picked off Franks in the fourth quarter.
Carter's interception in the middle of the field gave Miami a chance to put the game away, but Baxa missed on a field-goal try from 27 yards out.
Franks found the end zone on a 3-yard run to put the Gators ahead for good with 8:18 remaining.
"I thought our guys played with a lot of courage. I think they played with a lot of effort," Diaz said. "But it doesn't matter because we lost the game. We did not come here to play with courage and effort. We came here to win the game and it's not OK at the University of Miami ever to lose to the University of Florida. Everybody in that locker room feels the pain of that right now."
Williams was sacked four more times after Florida reclaimed the lead, including one that resulted in a turnover on downs.
"Obviously, we have a young offensive line," Diaz said. "They've got an experienced front that we knew would give us some trouble, and then it got into a point where there was going to be a lot of throwing in the second half. You know, that's all part of it. You've got to put yourself in some situations where you've got to expose yourself to their rush."
The Gators were 4-for-4 on fourth-down conversions.
Jordan was Miami's leading receiver with five catches for 88 yards, while Dallas led the team with 95 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Franks finished 17-of-27 for 254 yards with two touchdowns to go with his two interceptions.
Both teams combined for 23 penalties totaling 225 yards.
Florida's victory against Miami was just its second in the last nine meetings dating to 1986. The once-annual rivalry was discontinued after the 1987 season, resulting in a handful of meetings ever since, although both teams are scheduled to meet again for a home-and-home series in 2024 and 2025.