With an opportunity to clinch the Southeastern Conference East division for the first time since 2009, the No. 2 Florida Gators put together their worst game of the season, turning the ball over six times and failing to score a single touchdown as the No. 10 Georgia Bulldogs outplayed them and completed a 17-9 upset victory.
Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) now controls its SEC East destiny after taking down Florida (7-1, 6-1 SEC) in consecutive years for the first time since 1987-89. The Gators were held without a touchdown for the first time since Oct. 15, 2011 (at Auburn) and the first time against the Bulldogs since 1988.
Florida got off to a rough start on its first possession as sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel fumbled on the first play of the game when handing the ball off to senior running back Mike Gillislee. Driskel would recover his fumble but coughed the ball up again just two plays later, handing it over to Georgia on the 20-yard line. A pair of 10-yard gains resulted in a touchdown for Bulldogs freshman RB Todd Gurley and a 7-0 lead.
Things did not get any better for the Gators when they got the ball back as Florida converted a first down before turning it over on downs at the Georgia 36. Junior wide receiver Solomon Patton tried to convert a 4th-and-1 on a jet sweep but was taken down by his neck and seriously injured his arm on the play.
UF redshirt junior WR Andre Debose fumbled the ensuing punt return though redshirt senior WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. was able to recover it. The Gators then forced their first turnover of the game as redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball intercepted QB Aaron Murray but coughed the ball up again when Driskel fumbled three plays later.
With UGA on the nine-yard line and about to score, Florida senior safety Josh Evans intercepted Murray to begin UF’s best possession of the first half. The Gators used 15 plays to drive 70 yards and reduced their deficit to 7-3 after redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis connected on a 38-yard field goal.
Read the rest of this Florida-Georgia game story…after the break!
Florida registered its third interception of the game on the ensuing Georgia possession as junior safety Matt Elam picked off Murray on third down. The Gators were again held out of the end zone and settled for a 23-yard field goal with 2:43 left in the first half.
After forcing a punt, Florida took over at its own 40 with 1:08 to play and drove 55 yards down the field, but Driskel threw an interception into the end zone to end the half instead of settling for a field goal.
He doubled up with a second interception on the Gators’ first possession of the second half, turning the ball over to the Bulldogs at the 25-yard line. UGA would eventually settle for a 29-yard field goal, giving it a four-point lead midway through the third quarter.
Georgia attempted a surprise onside kick on the ensuing kickoff but was forced to re-kick after being called offsides. The Bulldogs wound up getting even better field position as junior RB Trey Burton fumbled a Wildcat hand-off two plays later, giving up the ball at the 26-yard line. UGA was unable to convert the turnover into points, however, missing a 37-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Florida eventually won the field position battle and took over on Georgia’s 43 following a punt. After Driskel took a zone read 20 yards down the field, UF was pushed back with a penalty and nine-yard sack before gaining a few yards back. The Gators settled for a 51-yard field goal attempt, which Sturgis made to cut his team’s deficit to one point with 9:41 left in the game.
The Bulldogs answered field goal immediately, piecing together a seven-play, 75-yard drive that concluded with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Malcolm Mitchell. The drive would have been over earlier had junior defensive end Dominique Easley not been called for a costly holding penalty on a drive-ending third-down incompletion. Instead, Malcom took a simple curl up the field and ran into the end zone as UF missed four tackles.
Florida responded with its best drive of the second half with Driskel completing four passes – three to redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed – and Gillislee gaining 22 yards on three carries. On Reed’s last reception, he gained 14 yards but jumped into the air inside the five-yard line and fumbled the ball into the end zone. UGA star LB Jarvis Jones forced a fumble for the second time in the game. He also registered a team-high 12 tackles with 4.5 for loss and three sacks.
Georgia outgained Florida 273-266 in the game but lost the time of possession battle 26:19-33:41. The Gators converted 7-of-16 third-down conversions compared to just 1-of-10 for the Bulldogs. UF did not achieve a single sack in the game and failed to force a second-half turnover, though Georgia ensured that their rivals coughed the ball up all game long.
With the SEC East no longer in its control, Florida will conclude its 2012 league campaign next week at home against Missouri at a yet-to-be-determined time.
Photo Credit: Stephen Morton/Associated Press