Florida vs. Georgia score, takeaways: Gators pounded by No. 1 Dawgs as more questions arise

By Adam Silverstein
October 30, 2021
Florida vs. Georgia score, takeaways: Gators pounded by No. 1 Dawgs as more questions arise

Image Credit: GatorsFB on Twitter

Anticipation over the first start of redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson’s career fizzled before 30 minutes were played in the 2021 edition of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail party. That’s bound to happen when three second-quarter turnovers turn a tooth-and-nail battle into a blowout that eventually led to a 34-7 win for the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs over the Florida Gators.

Florida fell to 2-4 in its last six games, 2-7 against Power Five opponents dating back to the 2020 and 8-7 overall since it thoroughly defeated Georgia in this game a year ago. The Gators have no answers at quarterback, and head coach Dan Mullen has even fewer himself when attempting to evaluate his program.

“Looking at us right now, we’re not where we want to be. I’m certainly not where I want to be, and our players certainly are not where they want to be at this point of the season,” said Mullen after the game. “It’s a mindset right now that we have to go change. … As the head coach, the mindset of the team falls on me … everything falls on me.

“Obviously, I know we’re two-thirds of the way through the season right now. I’m certainly not pleased with where we are, and I know our players are not pleased with where we are. I know Gator Nation is not pleased with where we are with the standards and expectations within this program.”

It took more than 57 minutes for Florida to maintain the one streak it still holds, and even a defense that played well with a season-high three turnovers showcased many of the same problems that have plagued it throughout the season.

The loss to the Dawgs was not unexpected, but the Gators were supposed to give more fight than they did Saturday. Instead, similar questions remain as more get added to the pile following their fourth loss to their fiercest rivals in the last five seasons.

What went down Saturday in the latest iteration of the Florida-Georgia game, and what does it mean for the Gators going forward? Keep on reading for takeaways from the game.

1. Richardson not ready to be a problem-solver: Calls for Richardson to replace embattled redshirt junior starter Emory Jones grew louder as the season progressed with Richardson sparking highlights while Jones was proving unreliable with 10 touchdowns to nine interceptions through seven starts. And while Richardson may well be the answer for Florida against teams that do not boast the No. 1 defense in the nation, throwing him to the fire against Georgia proved to be an ill-fated decision.

Did Mullen elevate Richardson into the role because of his explosive second half at LSU or amid growing fan sentiment? If the former, coupled with Jones’ play, was the basis of his decision, it’s understandable. If Mullen only made the change due to growing pressure (including comparisons to choosing Feleipe Franks over Kyle Trask for so long), then one can argue he did neither himself, the team nor the quarterbacks any favors.

“When we were playing against LSU, I thought he had such a hot hand and played really well in the second half of that game,” Mullen said. “Both of our guys split reps evenly at practice. Both guys were ready to play, but I kind of kept sticking to where we were when we finished the last game.”

Richardson completed 12 of 20 passes for 82 yards with three turnovers, adding 26 yards rushing on 12 carries. He was inefficient, perhaps because Mullen kept him on a short leash with a run-heavy game plan including few plays that called for throws beyond the first-down marker. This is not an indictment of Richardson’s talent or long-term potential — again, he played the toughest possible opponent in his first career start — but it does perhaps lend credence to what Mullen had said for so long: Richardson is talented but may not be ready to be “the guy”.

“We have a lot of things he still has to grow and develop on. He has a great work ethic, I think he’s an extremely talented young man, and I think he does put in the effort and he does put in the time in learning the offenses, the defenses and making the reads,” Mullen said. “Obviously, when you’re playing a great defense like Georgia has, you give them credit for having really good defensive guys. Overall, Anthony did some things really well and he made a couple of errors as well. But that’s something we’ll coach him up on and get him better at.”

2. Two-plus minutes of doom: One of the worst sequences in program history played out late in the second quarter dooming any chances the Gators had of winning the game before halftime even began. It started after sophomore safety Rashad Torrence II intercepted Dawgs QB Stetson Bennett IV on the equivalent of an arm punt with 3:11 until the break. Torrence, who caught the ball at the 2-yard line, saw momentum take him into the end zone. Rather than kneel for a possible touchback — the spot would be at the discretion of the referee in such a scenario — Torrence tried to bring it out and was talked inside the 2. That ensured Florida was backed up against the nation’s top D.

With it still a 3-0 game, Mullen likely aimed to give UF enough room for a punt or perhaps try a scoring drive given there were more than 2 minutes left with the Gators holding three timeouts. Richardson’s attempt to grind out some yards two plays later resulted in a fumble; the Dawgs ripped it out of his arms and punched it in from 11 yards out one play later, pushing their lead to 10-0. Just two plays later, Richardson threw a pass that was tipped and intercepted. Again, Georgia scored one play later with a 36-yard strike into the end zone. That’s 14 points in 41 seconds.

With 1:35 and three timeouts still in his pocket, Mullen wanted to give Florida a chance to respond. Richardson started moving the ball only to throw a 50-yard pick six. That’s 21 points — all off turnovers — in 2:09. The Gators turned a three-point game into a 24-0 bludgeoning, ruining any momentum Mullen would otherwise have been able to sell to the team entering the locker room against the No. 1 team in the nation.

3. Mind-numbing decisions continue: Whether it’s lacking aggressiveness in play calling, fumbling game management or using questionable personnel, Mullen has created a lengthy cavalcade of legitimate gripes about the way he has coached games. Those questions continued to mount Saturday as he made one mind-numbing decision after another in key spots that could have drastically affected how the game was played.

Allowing graduate transfer kicker Jace Christmann to attempt a 51-yard field goal to end the first quarter can perhaps be excused given how tight the game was played defensively. However, faced with the same situation only trailing 3-0 one quarter later, Mullen not only chose not to kick a field goal — Christmann had the distance but was wide of the uprights — but attempted to convert a fourth-and-13 that failed miserably.

Down 24-0 in the third quarter, after Torrence forced and recovered a fumble at midfield, Mullen was faced with fourth-and-5 from the Georgia 6-yard line. With Florida closer to the end zone than it had been all game and still perhaps in striking distance, Mullen opted to turn a three-score game (with conversions) … into a three-score game by kicking a 23-yard field goal. Appropriately, Christmann missed badly.

Beyond those decisions was a choice by Mullen, who said all week that Richardson and Jones would both play extensively in the game, not to play Jones for more than a single snap until Richardson was injured in the third quarter. Jones actually provided a spark when he got the opportunity, even though it was too little too late.

Perhaps most maddening from a personnel standpoint was a strange decision not to provide substantial carries to senior running back Dameon Pierce. Not only has Pierce dominated all season, he averaged 10 yards per carry in the first half and was easily the Gators’ most effective offensive weapon. Instead of leaning on his bowling-ball style to pound the Dawgs’ stout defensive front, Pierce wound up with just nine carries for 69 yards while UF’s other running backs combined for 13 touches for 44 yards.

“We roll guys through with different things that are happening,” Mullen said. “… I thought Dameon ran the ball pretty hard today. Because of our injuries, we played some two tailback sets. We had to play multiple backs in the game, which changed things up because of the some of the injuries. I thought he ran the ball hard.”

Finally, what exactly did Florida work on during the bye week? The defense had minimal answers (see below), while the offense showed far fewer wrinkles than it did two weeks ago with its back against the wall at LSU. The Gators ran two “trick” plays on Saturday, a two-quarterback throwback pass that was neither schemed well nor deployed at an appropriate time and a halfback pass that had no chance of success. For all of UF’s deficiencies, Mullen is supposed to have a schematic advantage. That was not evident on Saturday.

4. Defense improved … until it didn’t: Excuses can be made about Georgia’s 34 points; namely that seven were off a pick six and 14 more came on quick change turnovers in Florida territory, all inside that span of 2:09 as mentioned earlier. When you add in the fact that Torrence had three turnovers himself, the most for the Gators in a single game this season, that seems like a defensive effort that stepped up from its horrendous performance at LSU two weeks ago.

In some respects, that is true. Florida’s defense was solid for large swaths of Saturday’s game until similar issues arose. There were misalignments, penalties and an inability to stop the counter as Georgia’s running backs piled up yards through the middle of the defense. Zamir White and James Cook combined for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries with both scores being of the breakaway variety. The Dawgs do not have a dynamic offense, per se, but they still got more than enough to keep Florida in tough field position throughout the game.

5. One minor bright spot: Look, there’s no positive takeaways from a pounding like this. But if you want something to hang your hat on, well, the Gators scored. Jones led an 11-play, 89-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, running in from 2 yards out with 2:49 to play. Not only did his score ensure Florida was not shut out by Georgia for the first time since 1982, it kept alive the lone streak UF can still boast about as many others fell by the wayside.

“When we [told Jones] we were going to go with Anthony, his response was, ‘Whatever it takes to help the team win, I’m all in and I’ll be ready. Coach, you just point to me and I’ll be ready to go.’ He came in and I thought he played really well, also,” Mullen said.”

Florida scored in its 418th consecutive game, extending an NCAA record it has held since 2017. There have been close calls as of late, though. Ironically, one of those came in this 2017 rivalry game when the Gators kept their streak alive by similarly scoring with less than 3 minutes remaining in a 42-7 loss to the Dawgs. As we said: a minor bright spot.

6. Odds and ends: Georgia is now 53-44-2 all-time against Florida … the teams are 8-8 in their last 16 meetings … UGA has won four of the last five meetings with an average margin of victory of 20.25 points in those wins … Saturday marked the first time since 1942 that Georgia entered as the No. 1 team in the nation … Florida played two No. 1 ranked teams in the regular season for the first time in program history … UF is now 7-10 when being outrushed by an opponent and 6-10 against ranked teams (2-4 against top five teams) under Mullen … the Gators have outgained their opponents in total yardage in all eight games this season

7. What it means: Ultimately, not much. Florida was a 14-point underdog in this game for the first time in half a century for a reason. The greatest heartbreak for the Gators is the play of Richardson, and his head/neck injury suffered late in the third quarter does not inspire confidence in his impact next week or perhaps over the rest of the season. Coupled with Florida playing coming out of the bye week while being forced to view Georgia operating at full capacity, there’s certainly nothing positive that can be taken from this game as three was when UF lost to Alabama earlier in the season. Mullen has a lot to fix — more on that this week — and the problems are not going to be solved in 2021.

“In this final third of the season, that’s on me to get this fixed,” Mullen said. “The approach I take and mindset that we play with, that’s on me to get fixed, and I certainly plan on doing that — on changing where we’re at right now with us, creating some positive energy and some confidence for us, and the expectations to feed off of each other. I’m going to work and make sure I get that right.”

8. What’s next? Despite dropping two straight and four of its last five games, Florida actually has an opportunity to close the season strong. UF plays at South Carolina on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network. The Gamecocks, FCS Samford, Missouri and in-state rival Florida State are a combined 14-18 this season with none looking to be trending in the right direction. An 8-4 season is nothing that will put a smile on the faces of Gators fans, but momentum into the postseason could certainly help with recruiting as the team looks to lick its wounds ahead of the 2022 season.

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