JACKSONVILLE – This was college football's equivalent of death by a thousand cuts. Describing Florida's 24-17 loss to 8th-ranked Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC), Dan Mullen shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and said, “You can go in any direction you want to go.” There were far too many missed tackles. There were plenty of blown coverages. When the Gators needed pressure on the quarterback there was none. It took forever for Florida to mount a serious offensive threat. There were play calls for everything Georgia threw at the 6th-ranked Gators (7-2, 4-2 SEC), but something got lost in translation from the play calls from the sideline to the execution on the field.
The Gators' first two drives of the game were a microcosm of what went wrong on the offensive side of the ball in the first three quarters. Mullen had to call a time out on Florida's first drive. It was third-and-one from the Georgia 40 but when the Gators broke the huddle there were only 10 players on the field. Lamical Perine came rushing on but Mullen had to call time to avoid a delay of game. Then came a false start that made it third-and-six, a Kyle Trask-to-Perine pass that looked like it got the first down but was reversed on replay. On fourth down just about everyone in the stadium thought the Georgia defender interfered with Kyle Pitts. The zebra didn't see it that way and it was non-reviewable even though replay showed Pitts being mugged by Richard LeCount.
On Florida's second series with the Gators trailing 3-0, there was a substitution infraction when the huddle broke with 12 players that turned second-and-10 into second-and-15. That was followed by a 10-yard sack.
“We had the wrong personnel on the field,” Mulle said. The first two drives we had two different things. We had the wrong personnel on the field for the play call. We had 10 men on the field and then they didn't get lined up right.”
And that was just what was going wrong with the offense.
Over on the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Todd Grantham did his best to get pressure on Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm without blitzing. With no pressure to speak of, Fromm had enough time to order pizza from Papa John's and hand out slices to his teammates while waiting for someone to get open. Of Georgia's 12 third down conversions (in 18 attempts), Fromm found an open receiver for the first down. Georgia's first touchdown was a third down conversion on which Marco Wilson tried to throw a cross body block to the legs of Dominick Blaylock instead of trying to wrap him up with his arms. Blaylock bounced off the hit and went the final three yards for the TD that gave Georgia a 10-0 lead.
There was a critical third down conversion on Georgia's drive to a field goal that increased the lead to 13-3 just prior to the half. That one was a 12-yard pass from Fromm to Lawrence Cager, who made a dive for the ball at the 10. Ruled a catch on the field, it went to replay and while all the angles showed the point of the ball touching the ground, the replay folks in Birmingham refused to overrule the zebras. On that same drive, there was also a pass interference call that gave Georgia a first down at the Florida 26.
“We had a penalty that gave them a first down; we had a 'call stands' which I thought that was one of the biggest plays of the game,” Mullen said.
In a best case scenario, that drive would have been snuffed out and instead of a 13-3 halftime lead it would have only been 10-3, so it really had little to do with the outcome but it was atypical of the kind of day it was for the Gators. It wasn't until the fourth quarter that the Gators finally found themselves offensively, but their two touchdowns – a 23-yard Trask to Van Jefferson pass and a two-yarder from Trask to Freddie Swain – sandwiched the Georgia touchdown that sealed Florida's defeat.
That one was a 52-yard pass from Fromm to Cager, a play in which there were two Georgia receives and only one defender. Fromm simply picked the wide open receiver and Cager stolled into the end zone. This was the first touchdown pass of the season from Fromm that covered more than 14 yards.
Take that play away and Georgia could have very well finished off the drive by taking more time off the clock, but the blown coverage was just one more play on a long list of mistakes the Gators made. Georgia limited its mistakes. Florida made more than Mullen could have hoped to recall on short notice in his post game press conference.
The Gators gave up only two touchdowns, both on mistakes. Georgia kicked three field goals, each one aided by critical third down conversions. Indeed, death by a thousand cuts.
To Florida's credit, the Gators didn't roll over and die, but you don't beat a team that has been there and done that as Georgia has the last three years if you can't get them off the field. The two fourth quarter touchdown drives showed what Florida can do in the passing game and those two scores would have been enough to win the game if not for the inability to get some three-and-outs. But it turned out to be a case of too little too late when coupled with inadequate defense.
This isn't a bad Florida football team. Far from it. The Gators are very good but on this day they needed to be elite and they weren't. Elite teams down't spend critical, must win games playing from behind because they can't get the other team off the field on third down. Elite teams don't kill their own offensive momentum for three quarters and them expect to have enough in the tank to rally late.
Georgia may not be an elite team either, but if nothing else, the Bulldogs are efficient. They didn't beat themselves Saturday. For the most part, any time they needed a play they got one whether by their own ability or Florida's inability to make a play. Florida, on the other hand, kept firing away at its own feet with what seemed like ammunition clips that never ran out of bullets.
With the win Georgia has the tiebreaker which means it can absorb a loss in one of its three remaining SEC games and still win the Southeastern Conference East Division even if the Gators go 2-0 the rest of the way.
All the Gators can do now is win these last two SEC games (Vanderbilt next week in Gainesville and Missouri on the road the following week) and hope that somehow Georgia stumbles twice, which seems highly unlikely. It would have been so much easier had the Gators played at a highly efficient level Saturday, but they didn't. Georgia was and is a beatable team but to beat the Bulldogs you have to keep your mistakes to an absolute minimum.
So a Saturday that began with so much hope ended in a massive disappointment caused by self-inflicted wounds.
“The only people we can be disappointed with is ourselves because they did nothing that we didn't expect them to do,” a clearly disappointed Trask said post game. “We prepared for everything and it was more disappointing because we weren't executing on things that we expected we should've done right.”