Gators' perfect season undone by imperfections
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel delivered the pass to tight end Jordan Reed and watched him work his way toward the goal line, moving closer to giving the Gators a chance at catching Georgia late in the fourth quarter.
What followed felt like a replay of the entire game Saturday.
Another lost opportunity.
A season that had gone so perfectly came undone with so many imperfections. The third-ranked Gators lost more than their first game of the year, 17-9, to one of their biggest rivals. No. 12 Georgia now as the inside track to the SEC East division by beating Florida in back-to-back years for the first time since 1989. Worse yet, it held the Gators without a touchdown for the first time since 1988.
''When you make that many errors, it's hard to win the game,'' Driskel said.
The final blow came with just over two minutes remaining, Georgia leading 17-9, and Florida trying to finish off its longest drive of the game. Reed tried to hurdle a pair of Bulldogs at the 5-yard line, only for Jarvis Jones to strip the ball, which Sanders Commings scooped up in the end zone for a touchback.
''I'll take Jordan Reed in the open field any day,'' Driskel said. ''When I saw him make the first guy miss, I thought he was going to score. He didn't take care of the ball, just like the whole team didn't all night.''
The Gators had six turnovers, and while it led to only 10 points for Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC), they couldn't move the ball well enough to make up the difference. Florida (7-1, 6-1) had only 266 yards, with 81 yards on the ground.
''No one play loses the game,'' Florida coach Will Muschamp said.
Trouble is, he had a long list from which to choose.
The tone was set on the opening series, when Driskel held the ball too long on a delayed handoff and fumbled deep in Florida territory. He recovered, but two plays later, Damian Swann came on a cornerback blitz and hit Driskel as he was trying to pass, with Georgia recovering the fumble and setting up its first touchdown.
The Gators came into the game having turned the ball over just four times in seven games. Driskel had that many turnovers himself early in the third quarter. Someone suggested to Driskel that every young quarterback eventually has a bad game.
''It was a bad night to have it,'' the sophomore said.
On a night hardly anything went right for the Gators, their frustration might have been best captured late in the first half. On third-and-4 from the Georgia 5, running back Trey Burton slipped out of the backfield on a blitz with no one around him. Driskel had to scramble to catch a bad snap, and with Georgia defenders in his face when he finally got his grip, he lofted it in Burton's direction - but to the wrong side, and it fell a few yards to the right of his feet.
Florida got the ball back one last time in the opening half, trailing 7-6, and moved quickly into scoring position. On second-and-goal from the 5, Driskel was chased to the sideline when he saw Burton come open at the last minute. He threw the ball across his body, but by the time the ball arrived, Bacarri Rambo stepped in front of it for a pick. Instead of taking the halftime lead with at least a field goal, Florida got nothing.
Then again, it was like that all night.
Georgia was determined to stop the run, loading the line of scrimmage with Jones and slew of others in red jerseys who were hungry to prove themselves, and the Gators got nothing.
Mike Gillislee, who ran so hard in a big win over LSU two weeks ago, was held to 77 yards on 22 carries. Driskel was sacked five times and harried on just about every throw. Florida never had time to get anyone open down the field.
''We've got to play better around him,'' Muschamp said. ''We've got to protect better, create vertical plays, find ways to run the ball. You can't put everything on Jeff Driskel. We didn't play the way we've been playing as far as field position and turnovers. It's a formula we needed to have happen against a good football team. We've done that to this point. And we didn't do that tonight.''
Florida's defense did its part.
Georgia junior quarterback Aaron Murray beat a top 10 team for the first time in his career, though it was never pretty. At one point, Murray had only one more completion (four) than he had interceptions (three). He finished 12-of-24 with three interceptions for 150 yards and one touchdown.
The Bulldogs didn't convert a third down until early in the fourth quarter, and only then when Dominique Easley was called for holding on an incomplete pass. Todd Gurly provided most of the offense for Georgia with 118 yards on 27 carries.
Murray's one touchdown proved to be the difference, though.
Malcolm Mitchell, working the left sideline with two catches for 30 yards, appeared to drop a pass on 2nd-and-10 from midfield. Replay showed that he caught the ball and fumbled it out-of-bounds, giving Georgia 3rd-and-5. Murray went back to him again on the next play, and Loucheiz Purifoy let Mitchell out of his grasp. Mitchell cut his way across the field and into the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown and a 17-9 lead for the Bulldogs.
Florida had one last chance. It ended with the fumble, its sixth turnover of the game.
Until then, Muschamp thought the Gators were in a ''winnable'' game. Turns out they did everything possible to lose.
Muschamp is now 0-6 in this rivalry, including four times as a player for Georgia. The Gators need Georgia to lose either to Auburn or Ole Miss to have any chance of winning the SEC West, which looks unlikely.
Asked to at least grade the defense, Muschamp had none of it.
''We lost,'' he said. ''That's the only way I look at it.''