Already seemingly at rock bottom, the Florida Gators (4-7) on Saturday fell even deeper into a pit of despair, losing their sixth-straight while dropping a game to an FCS opponent for the first time in school history as the Georgia Southern Eagles (7-4) pulled off a 26-20 upset victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
The Eagles, set to join the FBS as a member of the Sun Belt Conference next season, earned their first-ever victory against an FBS opponent (previously 0-20). UF dropped its first-ever game to an FCS team and was outgained 429-279 on the afternoon despite the visitors not completing a single pass during the game.
Florida opened up with the football and immediately drove it down the field, picking up 63 yards on 13 plays before settling for a 27-yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor accounted for 54 of those yards on eight carries.
The Gators found themselves with another scoring opportunity just moments later after the Eagles muffed a punt and gave UF great field position the 25-yard line. Florida moved the ball 17 yards on four plays but had redshirt junior walk-on kicker Frankie Velez 34-yard field goal blocked.
It did not take long for UF to earn another short field. On GSU’s first play of its ensuing drive, RB Johnathan Bryant fumbled the ball. Gators junior defensive back Jabari Gorman forced the fumble, and redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor jumped on top of it for the recovery.
On 3rd-and-Goal from the Eagles’ three, redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg registered his first career touchdown by finding senior wide receiver Solomon Patton in the back of the end zone to put UF up 10-0.
Georgia Southern threatened to put some points on the board with about four minutes left in the first half, but Florida made a big play after allowing the visitors to drive the field. The Eagles rushed from their own 30 all the way down inside the Gators’ five, but a forced fumble by freshman LB Jarrad Davis was recovered by senior LB Darrin Kitchens to take away a scoring opportunity.
UF failed to move the ball and punted, allowing GSU to take over at the home 45-yard line. On 1st-and-10, Georgia Southern QB Kevin Ellison took it all the way to the house off the triple option, reducing Florida’s lead to just three points heading into the half.
The Eagles leaped ahead of the Gators just minutes into the start of the second half. A 66-yard run by J. McKinnon put GSU inside UF’s 10, and Ellison snuck it into the end zone on 4th-and-Goal from the one to put Georgia Southern ahead 14-10.
Unable to respond to the score, Florida punted from near its end zone out to its own 49. GSU immediately drove down its throat, moving 49 yards in eight plays before finding the end zone and taking a 20-10 lead following a failed extra point.
The Gators had a great opportunity to put a big dent in their deficit but settled for a 22-yard field goal by Velez. Senior WR Solomon Patton returned the kickoff 56 yards out to the Eagles’ 37, but Florida could not find the end zone despite earning 1st-and-Goal from the six-yard line.
Georgia Southern drove the field once again on its ensuing possession, but a fourth-down stop by Florida gave the Gators the ball at their own 41-yard line with less than seven minutes to play.
UF tied the game nearly immediately after taking over possession as Mornhinweg found Patton for a 46-yard touchdown that tied the game at 20 with 5:41 left to play.
Facing 3rd-and-2 at their own 36-yard line, the Eagles ripped off a 53-yard run down to the Gators’ 14. Two plays later, McKinnon charged into the end zone, but a missed extra point kept GSU’s lead at six with 2:57 to play.
Following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for end zone celebration, Florida was set to take over at midfield on the ensuing kickoff.
However, a 15-yard penalty on freshman defensive back Keanu Neal pushed UF back to its own 36 to start its final possession of the game.
The Gators drove all the way down to the Eagles’ 16 but failed on third and fourth down as the clock expired.
Florida will host No. 2 Florida State next Saturday in Gainesville, FL. The game will kick off at noon and air live on ESPN.