Florida football vs. Georgia score, takeaways: Gators not yet built to hang with Dawgs

By Adam Silverstein
October 27, 2018
Florida football vs. Georgia score, takeaways: Gators not yet built to hang with Dawgs
Football

Image Credit: Twitter / @FootballUGA

Just as it did two weeks ago, the No. 9 Florida Gators got punched in the mouth a few times early Saturday. And just as it did two weeks ago, Florida shook off a potential early knockout and fought back to gain an advantage. The difference this week is that it was not Vanderbilt but the No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs that the Gators were looking to topple, and there was simply too much for UF to overcome in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

A combination off miscues, injuries and poor play put Florida behind the sticks early on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida. It eventually became too much for the Gators, which dropped their second straight to the Dawgs by a combined margin of 54 points, the largest in a two-game sweep of UF by UGA since 1944-45. Let’s take a look at what we learned from Florida-Georgia.

1. Death by a thousand cuts … except in this game it was more like a thousand stab wounds. A combination of self-inflicted mistakes and absences doomed Florida on Saturday; no matter how well the Gators played otherwise, they never would have beaten the Bulldogs with all of the obstacles they needed to overcome.

With its No. 1 cornerback already sidelined for the season, Florida suited up for the game with its No. 3, sophomore Brad Stewart sidelined by either injury or suspension — head coach Dan Mullen would not say. Then, one series into the game, its No. 2 corner, sophomore C.J. Henderson injured his lower back via friendly fire and was unable to return. Just like that, the Gators’ already-thin secondary was wiped out. It allowed the Dawgs to target Henderson’s replacement, redshirt sophomore C.J. McWilliams the entire game. McWilliams was burned consistently, giving up two touchdowns, a number of big passing plays and a key pass interference. Combine the thin secondary with a pass rush that was unable to get to quarterback Jake Fromm on the evening, and it was a recipe for disaster.

“Two of the best players on our team [Wilson, Henderson] are our two corners. We like to play man coverage. They were both out, and that’s a struggle,” Mullen said. “All year, we’ve had guys banged up and injured. Next guy has got to step up and go make plays. There are opportunities for people to go do that. We are extremely thin in the secondary being down six or seven guys on the total roster makes it a challenge. We have to look and find people who are ready to take advantage of that opportunity.”

As if that was not enough of an obstacle, Florida gave Georgia three additional scoring opportunities in the by coughing the ball up again and again. Redshirt senior running back Jordan Scarlett fumbled on the first series (leading to a touchdown), and redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks threw an interception on the very next possession. Late in the third quarter while trailing by a single score, Franks fumbled on UF’s 2-yard line, though his defense was able to mitigate the miscue. Florida’s offense could have lit it up all night, and it still wouldn’t have mattered.

2. The defense is almost there: The Gators have been great defensively most of the season, but it was clear as day against the Dawgs that it is neither deep nor talented enough to compete with the best of the best at this time. Considering how poorly Jim McElwain and Randy Shannon recruited that side of the ball, it’s almost a miracle that Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham have taken them this far. Florida bottled up Georgia on short runs and played well over the first three quarters, particularly in an epic goal line stand in which UF stopped UGA on six straight plays (the drive continued due to penalties).

But the lacking secondary and inability to get to the quarterback allowed UGA to convert 8-of-14 third downs. All of Georgia’s touchdowns came on that down, and it converted three straight on a game-sealing score early in the fourth quarter. If Henderson and Stewart were active, who knows what would have happened in this game. Couple the fact that they and Wilson will return next season, along with (Florida hopes) a top-tier recruiting class, and this unit could be quite special one year from now.

“I don’t think we played very well at all. It probably was our worst execution performance of the year and I am really disappointed in that,” Mullen said. “We will learn as a team on how to play. You get into some big game situations and we have to execute. If you look at what we did in the game, we turned the ball over, we were minus-three [in the] turnover ratio with two of them coming inside our own 10-yard line. You can’t do that offensively and you aren’t going to win many games doing that. They scored four touchdowns on third down, and two of them we had blown coverages on. We had poor execution and as a team; we have to be much cleaner and execute cleaner. If we can do that, we will have the opportunity to become the team we want to become.”

3. Franks isn’t the answer, but we knew that already: Despite his improved play — and dissing him for his performance Saturday without recognizing how he has played in other games is unfair — Franks is clearly not the answer at quarterback for Florida. It was not even the goal line fumble (that can happen) that is the issue but rather the fact that he reverted to the old version of himself on Saturday. Franks missed a wide open receiver on an otherwise perfectly executed and called flea flicker on the first play of the game (UF would have been up 7-3, instead it trailed 10-0 after Scarlett’s fumble on the next play). One series later, he dialed back his arm strength (almost in response to the overthrow), which resulted in him tossing a ball 5 yards short on an out route for an interception.

He did have a receiver drop a crucial third-down catch later in the game, and he did throw a perfect 36-yard scoring strike to junior wide receiver Freddie Swain, but plays like that are expected.

Just don’t get your hopes up that change will come before the end of the season. Mullen could, in theory, decide to roll with redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask and see what he has to offer in an extended live game situation; however, freshman Emory Jones — effective in limited action Saturday — is still planned for a redshirt. Jones may well be the answer in 2019, but he won’t be in 2018. And really, he shouldn’t be considering the SEC East is out of UF’s grasp and all it is playing for now is a good bowl game.

“I don’t think the better team won today. The execution part is what gave [Georgia] the lead and the
momentum,” Swain said. “I feel like that game is over. Next week is a new week. Hopefully we will execute better in practice and relay it to the game.”

4. You can’t win ’em all: For as poorly as the Gators played on Saturday, reaction — at least in my Twitter mentions — has been ridiculously and unfairly negative. This is still a Florida team that is 6-2 (4-2 SEC) on the season with a victory over a top-five team in LSU. It’s two losses have come to future top-five Georgia and future top-10 Kentucky (though that should be short-lived), and it has won three SEC road games already while spending one month between home games. There is a chance that UF flounders from here, particularly if it doesn’t get Henderson and/or Edwards back, but the Gators are also capable of winning out and going 10-2 this season. Would you have taken that back in August knowing Franks would start every game when most everyone said they would be happy with 8-4? Of course you would.

Mullen has proven that he has the program headed in the right direction, calls a better offensive game than any time since he was the offensive coordinator in 2008 and can develop a quarterback. (You may not like Franks, but you would be foolish to say he has not improved.) The defense in particular has taken a major step forward after its rare embarrassing effort last season. You don’t have to like the way Florida played on Saturday — and there is no reason you should — but it’s just a piece of a larger puzzle, and the game would have looked mighty different if the Gators had two more players active.

Odds and ends: Georgia outgained Florida 429-275 with its margin coming through the air (240-105) … both totals were season-lows for the Gators … UGA compiled 141 of those yards in its final two series of the game with UF gassed … the Gators had seven penalties for just 27 yards because three occurred inside the 2-yard line … Florida had just one sack in the game and only allowed one as well … redshirt junior punter Tommy Townsend averaged 49.8 yards per punt, including a massive 71-yarder … Florida did not go three-and-out on offense until there were just over eight minutes left in the game … UGA is now 51-43-2 all-time against UF with back-to-back wins … this was the first meeting of Florida and Georgia as top 10 opponents since 2008 … Saturday was the Gators’ first loss against a ranked team this season (2-1) … UF has scored in 380 straight games, an NCAA record

2 Comments

  1. Michael Jones says:

    Solid piece and fair analysis, Adam. Franks never sees the open guy underneath or the open back in the flat. It’s a cerebral position, not just an arm-strength contest. I’d love to see Trask get a shot.

    The goal line stand was epic and showed our heart. We can build on that. We just need more numbers and experience in the secondary and to stop calling a 3 man rush–ever. We might’ve lost, but this time we weren’t out-toughed or out-hearted.

    As far as the haters coming out on Twitter the minute things don’t go great, doesn’t surprise me. There is a bizarre irrational hatred of Mullen by a part of Gator Nation. Probably Foley worshippers. They have nothing to say when we win, but plenty to say when we lose . . which says plenty about THEM.

    And you’re damn right: EVERY ONE OF US WOULD HAVE BEEN T-H-R-I-L-L-E-D TO TAKE 6-2 IF YOU WOULD HAVE GIVEN US THAT OPTION BEFORE THE SEASON STARTED.

    We’re going to be alright.

    GO GATORS!!!

  2. Ben says:

    Adam, Nice article. I do believe you meant Stewart not Edwards at the bottom of your piece. I looked up his defensive stats. Yes, he was sorely missed. Yes, Edwards did not play either…Word I’m hearing also is that Henderson may have been hurt in pre-game warm ups but decided to give it a go anyway…

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