The Florida Gators nearly fought all the way back following their worst half of the season but fell just short of a come-from-behind victory on Saturday with the Georgia Bulldogs pulling off a 23-20 victory at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL.
Florida (4-4, 3-3 SEC) has now been defeated by Georgia (5-3, 4-2 SEC) in three-straight seasons for the first time since 1987-89. Gators head coach Will Muschamp fell to 0-7 all time in the Florida-Georgia series, losing thrice as a coach and four times as a former Bulldogs player.
After allowing Georgia to score the first 20 points of the game, Florida buckled down and outscored its rival 17-0 in the second half via a mixture of impressive defensive plays and effective offense. Unfortunately for UF, many mistakes were made in both halves and it was too much of a burden for it to overcome.
The Bulldogs bit the Gators early after Florida won the toss and deferred to the second half. Georgia put together a seven-play, 75-yard drive out of the gate including a 25-yard rush and five-yard touchdown run by running back Todd Gurley.
It looked like the Gators were primed to answer back immediately as redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy hit redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar for a 83-yard reception on UF’s second play. However, Florida stalled and was pushed back on 3rd-and-Goal from the UGA eight after senior WR Solomon Patton committed a personal foul.
The Gators were forced to settle for a 40-yard field goal, but kicker Frankie Velez missed his attempt wide right.
Georgia pounced on the miscue right away as QB Aaron Murphy threw short to Gurley as Florida blitzed, and Gurley turned the ball up the field for a 73-yard score that gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead with 9:19 left in the first quarter.
UGA tacked on a 49-yard field goal after moving 53 yards on nine plays during their next possession and increased its lead to 20-0 at the start of the second quarter with a 27-yard field goal following a six-play, 49-yard drive.
UF was able to respond with their only points of the half, starting its first drive of the second quarter in good field position after a 41-yard return out of the end zone by Patton. The Gators used 21 total yards from freshman RB Kelvin Taylor coupled with an 18-yard reception by Patton to get down to the Georgia 14 before Velez connected on a 31-yard field goal.
On its final possession of the first half, UF was faced with 4th-and-10 from UGA’s 40-yard line. Only trailing by 17 and set to receive the ball after the break, Florida decided to go for it, but Murphy threw incomplete to Dunbar.
The Bulldogs once again took advantage of a Gators mistake by moving down the field in just over a minute – and even converting a 3rd-and-22 on the way – before kicking a half-ending 32-yard field goal.
Florida looked to be in somewhat of an offensive rhythm after the half, riding Taylor and getting an 11-yard conversion to Patton on 4th-and-5 to set up a 47-yard field goal attempt. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin’s kick was dead-on but two yards short and UF did not come away with any points.
Momentum finally swung in favor of the Gators as redshirt junior nose tackle Leon Orr recovered a dropped lateral thrown by Murray and Florida took over at Georgia’s 14-yard line. Redshirt junior RB Mack Brown gained all 14 of those yards on two carries, rumbling into the end zone for a touchdown.
Tempers flared on the next series when Gurley and Gators sophomore BUCK linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. got into a scuffle. Gurley threw a punch, but it was not seen by the referees and he remained in the game.
On Florida’s next possession after the three-and-out, Murphy evaded a sure-thing sack on third down and handed the ball off to Patton, who was taken down with a horse collar tackle. A second scuffle ensued with referees calling four offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
UF was forced to punt and downed the ball at UGA’s three-yard line. On the very next play, junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy blitzed and sacked Murray in the end zone for a safety, cutting the Gators’ deficit to 11 points.
Florida recovered the ensuing punt at midfield and struck quickly with Murphy rushing on consecutive plays for 25 yards and 14 yards, the second carry ending with a leap over the pylon into the end zone. The Gators decided to go for two and converted with Murphy hitting redshirt sophomore tight end Clay Burton, who was wide open in the middle of the end zone.
Facing 4th-and-1 at their own 39, the Bulldogs called a direct snap to Gurley, who was stopped short by UF redshirt junior LB Neiron Ball. Florida would have taken over in Georgia territory, but Ball took his helmet off after the tackle and a 15-yard penalty was called on UF.
The Gators blew their great opportunity and punted down to the Bulldogs’ 17-yard line.
The Bulldogs then iced the game with a 15-play, 67-yard drive that included four third-down conversions (the last one via penalty) and ate up the final 8:17 of the contest.
Now firmly out of the Southeastern Conference race, Florida will look to save its season from complete failure by earning a bowl berth for the 23rd consecutive year. UF hosts Vanderbilt next Saturday in a game set to kick off at noon.
Photo Credit: A.J. Reynolds/Athens Banner-Herald