I’m proud to introduce a new segment called “Helmet Stickers” for the 2019 season. The idea is simple. A lot of college football teams give our little stickers to players for their helmets whenever they do something noteworthy (in a positive way, of course) on the field. But since Florida doesn’t do this, I thought I’d start a weekly piece where I metaphorically do just that. To boot: at the end, I’ll metaphorically award a game ball to the MVP. Self-explanatory, right?
Do note, though: I’m stingy with them. When I was in high school, I was a volunteer student TE assistant for a very powerful program in New Jersey that only gave them out for the most seismic of plays. So, I’m carrying that over here. But since this is done for specific plays, yes, players can earn multiple stickers per game. And no, they cannot be taken away.
So, who earned a helmet sticker in week zero for the Gators against the Miami Hurricanes?
-Tommy Townsend, for his fake punt run. Come on. How often do punters get their names called for positive reasons? Credit to Townsend for getting the four yards he needed and a little more on a gargantuan early gamble by Florida that could have yielded disastrous consequences had it failed.
-Kadarius Toney, for his 66 yard catch and run through the Miami defense right after the fake punt. This early explosion from the newly anointed #1 on offense proved that he more than earned that “baller” label Dan Mullen stated a player had to have in order to wear that distinctive number. It also helped more than people may realize. Those seven points Toney created for Florida were the only first half points the Gators would get in a 24-20 win.
-James Houston IV, for his sack of Jarren Williams. One of ten sacks on the night, Houston probably worked the hardest for his. He started the play in either zone coverage of Mike Harley or QB spy mode, but recognized when Williams decided to try to take off, beat him to the line of scrimmage and alpha-rolled him for a two yard loss.
-CJ Henderson, for his pass breakup in the end zone late in the contest. Plain and simple, Miami probably wins the game without him dislodging the ball from Jeff Thomas’s hands with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. Bubba Baxa’s missed field goal after the Gators’ third down stop led Mullen to capitalize on the momentum swing and order the deep shot to Josh Hammond that led to the winning touchdown. Who knows how this game plays out without Hendo’s PBU?
-Feleipe Franks and Josh Hammond, each, for their 65 yard hookup. Spectacular, Franks was not: a pair of interceptions and at least partial blame on a lost fumble inside Miami’s ten yard line marred his night, but in the midst of all that ugliness he somehow found it within himself to launch a perfect deep ball to Hammond after Miami missed a chip shot field goal midway through the fourth quarter. And of course, an equal dose of credit goes to Hammond for flagging it down and continuing to push forward. What most people tend to forget was that after catching the ball, Hammond then gained an additional 25 yards. Three plays later, Franks barreled into the end zone for what turned out to be the winning score.
-Marlon Dunlap, for his late sack of Jarren Williams. This should have been game, set, match for Florida, but it wasn’t Dunlap’s fault that Franks would let Miami back into the game right after this play. On fourth down and long, Dunlap smelled blood in the water and used his combination of strength and athleticism to roast Miami’s center and plaster Williams to force the turnover on downs.
And the game ball goes to… um, I mean the game balls go to… Jabari Zuniga and Jon Greenard. I’ll try to keep this to one player a game, but the two defensive linemen will just have to split the honor the way they routinely split Miami’s offensive line in half last Saturday night. Zuniga kicked his senior campaign off with a bang, and Greenard proved to be an immediate plug and play option following his transfer from Louisville as they teamed up to terrorize the Canes all night. Their pure power, speed and athleticism made them frightening for Miami to have to deal with, and even when they weren’t recording tangible stats, they were near the ball, misdirecting or altering plays. They fed off one another, complemented each other and led the way for a defense that finished with ten sacks. So they’ll have to share the distinction of being the Gators’ MVP.