JACKSONVILLE — Coaches and referees restrained the Gators and Bulldogs from trading blows before the game, but they could not keep Georgia from landing the knockout punch in a grinding 24-20 victory.
With Florida down four, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw for a first down at Florida’s 36-yard line with 2:29 minutes left in the fourth quarter and with one Florida timeout left. The pass ended Florida’s comeback attempt and a sloppy game in which the Gators gave up two turnovers, six sacks and picked up 14 penalties.
“We had our opportunities in the game,” Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. “We had two turnovers inside our 25-yard line. Gave up 14 points on two critical fourth down plays and a lack of being able to run the football—too many penalties in critical situations.”
The Florida defense was out on the field for close to 38 minutes. Georgia’s offense converted 10 of 21 third and fourth-down opportunities.
Defensive tackle Omar Hunter said the defense needed to get off the field on third and fourth downs.
“On third downs, you’ve got to get off the field,” Hunter said. “I feel like we had a couple third-down, fourth-down stops that we needed to make and we didn’t come up with those. That’s all part of growing up as a defense and as a team. We will.”
Saturday’s loss marks a four-game losing streak for Florida, the first since 1988. The Gators have been eliminated from the SEC race.
The outlook didn’t always look so bleak for Florida.
On its second drive on a 4th and 19, hampered Florida quarterback John Brantley evaded the Georgia rush on a gimpy right ankle and stepped up in the pocket to deliver a 31-yard strike to a streaking tight end Jordan Reed down the seam.
Points kept pilling on for Florida when running back Jeff Demps returned a kickoff 99 yards to put the Gators up 14-3 against the Bulldogs.
At halftime, the Gators led 17-10 with 226 Brantley passing yards and the quarterback’s right ankle, although heavily taped, looked fit enough to carry the Gators to victory.
Georgia quickly ended that mirage.
A fumble from wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. at Florida’s 18-yard line resulted in a game-tying Bulldogs touchdown at 17 points apiece.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt said the coaching staff made adjustments in the locker room and his football team was not affected by the Florida aerial attack.
“I didn’t see the deer in headlights look,” Richt said. “What I saw was a bunch of guys focused and believing. I thought our staff did a nice job of making adjustments to what they were doing. We had a good plan in the second half and our guys executed well.”
Brantley finished the third quarter 1-of-7 passing and completed only two of his final 13 passes in the game. The quarterback was without an effective running game.
Muschamp said Brantley’s high ankle sprain limited the redshirt senior and the Florida running game. Florida’s duo of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey finished with 38 yards rushing.
“We couldn’t get him under center to do some of the things we wanted to do,” Muschamp said. “We knew that going into the game.”
What Florida did not anticipate was 106 penalty yards.
“I think there are two different parts of penalties,” Muschamp said. “Some are undisciplined and those are the ones tough to deal with. You know I have got to do a better job. I’ll work on it.”
Florida’s failed to rush for 100 yards for the third time in four weeks. Brantley’s inability to turn and hand off the ball under center limited the Gators, Muschamp said.
“We need to be able to run the ball downhill, and when you’re in the gun it’s hard to run the ball consistently downhill,” Muschamp said. “So again, he’s limited with his ankle, but we felt like he gave us the opportunity to be successful in the game so that’s what we went with. I’d do it again, John played well, and we just need to figure out how we can run the ball a little more effectively.”
Brantley quarterbacked the Gators for the last time against Georgia. Despite the loss, Brantley said the team has to stick together.
“We have to forget about these past four games and move forward,” Brantley said. “There are no pointing fingers. We are a family.”
- Cornerback Cody Riggs sustained a wrist injury during the game. “He should be fine,” Muschamp said.
- Linebacker Lerentee McCray changed out of his jersey after hurting his left shoulder.
- During the week, kicker Caleb Sturgis strained his leg. When he was warming up against Georgia, he did not feel like he could go. Brad Phillips was two for three kicking field goals.
- Right tackle Chaz Green hurt his ankle at practice on Wednesday. He did not dress out against Georgia.
- Running back Mike Gillislee sustained an ankle injury Oct. 15 at Auburn. Muschamp said the injury was “hindering him from being able to cut loose and play.” .
- Injury updates provided by Florida head coach Will Muschamp in his post-game press conference.