Saturday’s 41-14 win over Florida State was arguably the most valuable victory of the Gators’ 2018 season, and there were a handful of players that made it possible. Here are Saturday’s Most Valuable Players:
Quarterback Feleipe Franks
It started with a 39-yard deep post to wide receiver Van Jefferson that set up Florida’s first score of the day, a field goal.
And by the end, quarterback Feleipe Franks had found seven different receivers for 254 passing yards and three touchdowns.
The redshirt sophomore turned a shaky start into one of his best games of the season.
Franks’ patience and decision making stood out to coach Dan Mullen.
“I think he did a great job,” Mullen said. “They gave us some different looks. He got down in the red zone, some different coverages and mixed some things up right there. You know, I even though he did a good job, there were a couple times we didn’t have anybody open and he didn’t force it. He tried to scramble and create or extend the play before he threw it away. But, you know, he did a good job, he didn’t make mistakes and executed well.”
Franks also completed his fourth consecutive game without a turnover. And Saturday’s performance marked the fourth game this season in which Franks has thrown at least three touchdown passes, making him the first Gators quarterback to do so since Tim Tebow in 2008.
He also logged his sixth 200-yard passing game to put an exclamation point on a year in which he quietly put up big numbers for much of the season.
“I know it’s tough to play quarterback at the University of Florida,” Mullen said, “and everybody’s got pretty high standards. But first year in this system, as a sophomore, he’s put up some pretty good numbers this year.”
Co-MVPs: wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Van Jefferson
The success of the Gators’ offense against the Seminoles was underscored by the performances of the two transfer wideouts. Sophomore Trevon Grimes and Jefferson combined for nine catches and 210 of the Gators’ yards through the air.
Grimes replaced the injured Tyrie Cleveland, who suffered a broken collarbone in the first quarter, and led Florida’s receivers with a career-high 118 yards.
Jefferson had a touchdown catch in the third quarter when he shook an FSU defensive back to the ground to get wide open for the score.
“When they called the play I knew I had it. I was going to score,” Jefferson said. “It was me and the safety one-on-one. I was supposed to bend in but he was too far inside so I just double moved him and went over the top of him.”
Grimes and Jefferson were a part of all five of the Gators’ passing plays of 20-plus yards: Jefferson’s 39-yard catch in the first quarter, a 54-yard Grimes reception in the second quarter (the longest reception of his career), a 22-yard touchdown reception by Grimes in the third, a 38-yard touchdown catch by Jefferson in the third and a 20-yard reception by Grimes in the fourth.
Co-MVPs: defensive ends Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga
Florida got a near perfect performance out of a defense that has gotten exposed at different points in the season. And few on that side of the ball made a bigger impact than the dynamic pass rushing tandem in Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga.
Polite entered the contest ranked third in the FBS in forced fumbles, and he needed just two-and-a-half quarters on Saturday to log another one.
The junior swiped the ball out of the hands of FSU quarterback Deondre Francois midway through the third quarter to set up the Grimes touchdown on the very next play.
“That’s a man against boys,” safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said of Polite. “Jachai, a lot of people see Jachai as just a one-down guy. But today you can see Jachai affected the quarterback and the runners in different ways just by being there.”
Polite and Zuniga were largely the reason Florida was able to succeed in containing the dangerous FSU tailback, Cam Akers, and keep the pressure on Francois throughout the game.
Francois was sacked five times by the Gators’ defense, and Polite and Zuniga accounted for 3.5 of those.
Left tackle Martez Ivey
The left tackle played a huge role in the run blocking and had a critical block in which he whirled an FSU defensive lineman to the ground to open a lane for tailback Lamical Perine. It led to a 74-yard touchdown run.
Running backs Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett
The backfield duo combined for 217 of Florida 282 rushing yards, and they led the Gators to their fifth game of 200-plus rushing yards this year.