Too many obstacles leave Florida with disappointing loss

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Gators made history Saturday.

None they will want to remember though.

The cold hard facts from Saturday’s 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern read like this:

— The Gators lost to a Division I-AA/FCS team for the first time — they were 15-0 previously — since the division formed in 1978; Georgia Southern defeated a Division I/FBS program for the first time after 20 consecutive losses.

— The loss was UF’s first nonconference home loss to a team other than Florida State or Miami since losing to Memphis State in 1988.

— Florida dropped to 4-7, losing for the sixth consecutive game, the longest winless stretch for the Gators in 34 years.

— The loss ensured Florida’s first losing season since the Gators finished 0-10-1 in 1979 and prevents them from becoming bowl eligible, which will snap their 22-year bowl streak.

— Georgia Southern rushed for 429 yards, the most against a Florida team since Nebraska churned out 524 against the Gators in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

In a season that has spiraled downward since the Gators got off to a 4-1 start, the postgame scene still seemed surreal for longtime Florida observers. As the Gators trudged slowly to the locker room, the Eagles’ celebration took over the field.

Their fans in the southeast corner of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium cheered loudly and snapped photos. The school’s band played. The Eagles made the kind of history they’ll want to remember forever.

“That’s a big win for us and our kids,” Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said. “Let’s be honest about it. If you’re willing to take a guess here, who’s going to win — Georgia Southern or Florida? There would probably be a lot more people who would have picked Florida.”

Monken is right, of course.

That is what makes this loss more difficult for the Gators. Florida head coach Muschamp warned all week that Georgia Southern’s triple-option offense was a talent neutralizer.

He was right, too, as the Eagles won despite not completing one pass — the first time that has happened against the Gators in records back that date back to 1976.

In his postgame press conference, Muschamp faced similar questions when the Gators lost at home to Vanderbilt two weeks ago.

“Very disappointed for our program and an embarrassment in this situation,” Muschamp said. “We had our opportunities there. The kids kept playing hard.”

From there many of the same topics were covered as after the previous five losses.

Once again, injuries played a key role.

The Gators lost starting middle linebacker Michael Taylor to a knee injury. Fellow linebacker Alex Anzalone went down with a dislocated shoulder. Another linebacker, Darrin Kitchens, suffered a shoulder injury but returned. Florida was also without starting defensive end Jonathan Bullard (knee) and Marcus Roberson (ankle) to injury.

And once again, the offense struggled.

The Gators opened the game with a 13-play, 63-yard drive that featured mostly runs by Kelvin Taylor, who picked up 54 of his 92 yards on the first drive of the game. Frankie Velez’s 27-yard field goal gave Florida a 3-0 lead.

A Georgia Southern turnover aided Florida’s second score, a 3-yard pass from Skyler Mornhinweg to Solomon Patton. The Gators led 10-0 less than two minutes into the second quarter on a sunny day at The Swamp.

All seemed fine but then some of the issues that have plagued the Gators all season turned the momentum to the Eagles, who scored 20 unanswered points.

Florida tied the game up 20-20 on Mornhinweg’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Patton with 5:41 left in the game, but the Gators defense, so good early in the season, allowed a five-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Jerick McKinnon’s 14-yard touchdown run with 2:57 left.

And once again, penalties proved costly.

The Gators played penalty-free for the first 57 minutes of the game until Keanu Neal’s personal foul on the ensuing kickoff moved the Gators back to their 36-yard line instead of starting at Georgia Southern’s 49.

Still, the game came down to one final play: fourth-and-3 at Georgia Southern’s 17-yard line with eight seconds left. Mornhinweg’s throw to Patton was incomplete and the Eagles started to celebrate.

The Gators headed to the locker room to decompress.

“The thing about the Gator Nation is this is not usually what you envision,” Kitchens said. “But all I can say is we’re going to bounce back and Florida is going to take care of Florida.

“Losing that type of game is embarrassing, but when everybody plays as hard as they did, everybody gave it their all, that’s all you can really ask for. I’ll take those guys any day of the week.”

That’s probably not what a portion of Gator Nation wants to hear.

They want to hear someone has been fired. That Muschamp plans to resurrect the Fun N’ Gun. That Tim Tebow mysteriously has another year of eligibility remaining.

Saturday’s loss defined a new low for the season, but don’t expect athletic director Jeremy Foley to take back his recent support of Muschamp or the direction of the program.

The same issues that were in play during the previous losses didn’t disappear on Saturday. Foley knows that.

A dejected Muschamp did share some of his frustration with an offense that in retrospect was crippled more by quarterback Jeff Driskel’s broken leg than most envisioned.

While freshman running back Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown have helped cover the loss of starting tailback Matt Jones, the quarterback run so prominent in Florida’s offensive success a year ago has vanished.

Driskel’s arm strength is also Herculean compared to Tyler Murphy or Mornhinweg.

“We’re struggling offensively. It’s affecting our entire team right now. That’s the trouble we’ve got. It becomes infectious,” added Muschamp. “When you give up 17 points, you hope you can score 17. That’s hard.

“You can look at where we’ve rolled from about the middle of the season to this point, that’s what happened to us.”

There are no quick fixes to what ails the Gators. That has become more and more apparent with each loss over the past seven weeks.

Mornhinweg, whose best throw Saturday was on Patton’s 46-yard touchdown reception — he stood in the pocket and took a hard hit on the play — finished 14 of 25 for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

He is young and inexperienced but understood the waves Saturday’s loss would cause.

“We’re just upset over the loss,” Mornhinweg said. “We’re the Florida Gators. We should be winning every game.”

There are a lot of people out there who feel the same way, but if you’ve been watching closely, this is not that kind of team.

Too many key players hurt. Too many adjustments to make. Too many missed tackles.

Too many obstacles.

“It’s all disappointing. It’s hard to really measure,” Muschamp said. “Very disappointed. We’ve got to get it fixed and we will.”