JACKSONVILLE — With a chance to clinch the SEC East, the Florida Gators put together their worst game of the season on Saturday night.
Forcing six turnovers by the Gators, No. 10 Georgia upset No. 2 Florida 17-9 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.
Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) must win its two remaining conference games to secure a spot in the SEC Championship Game. Florida (7-1, 6-1) likely played itself out of any chance of a conference title.
Florida came into the game having turned the ball over just four times on the season. Against Georgia, the Gators uncharacteristically could not hold onto the ball.
They turned it over early, and they turned it over often.
It began on Florida’s first possession. The Gators fumbled twice on the drive, setting the tone for the game. On the first offensive play of the game, Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee misplayed a zone read causing a fumble, but Driskel was able to recover the loose ball.
After a completion to Trey Burton, Driskel was hit from behind on third down, forcing the ball out. The Gators were not so lucky the second time, as Georgia recovered, giving the Bulldogs possession on the Florida 20-yard line.
Three plays later, Georgia took its first lead of the game as freshman Todd Gurley powered through the middle for a 10-yard rushing touchdown.
A 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty was called on Gurley after the touchdown, forcing Georgia to kick off from its own 20-yard line. Andre Debose brought the kick back to the Florida 42-yard line, giving the Gators strong starting field position.
After picking up a first down, the Gators attempted to go for it on fourth-and-1, running a speed sweep with Solomon Patton. The Gators were stopped just short of the first down when Georgia safety Shawn Williams caught Patton from the neck area and pulled him down.
Patton was down along the sideline for a few minutes as trainers attended to a left shoulder injury. He was able to walk off the field but had his left arm wrapped in a sling as he headed toward the locker room.
On the ensuing series, Florida’s defense was able to force Georgia to punt. Debose muffed the punt, but Frankie Hammond Jr. saved the Gators from a second early turnover by recovering the ball.
Still, the Gators offense continued to struggle. Georgia’s defense, which had its toughness questioned during the week, used momentum from the early fumble by Driskel to keep Florida’s offense from establishing a rhythm early.
After punting the ball back to Georgia, the Gators got their first break of the game when linebacker Neiron Ball intercepted a deflected pass from Aaron Murray and returned it to the Georgia 45-yard line.
The interception was the first of Ball’s career.
Given good starting field position, Florida made another critical, uncharacteristic mistake. On third-and-14, Jarvis Jones stripped Driskel, who was attempting to unnecessarily break a tackle.
That’s when Gurley want back to work against the Florida defense.
Beginning at the Florida 44-yard line, Gurley rushed five times for 45 yards to move Georgia to the Florida 9-yard line.
However, the Bulldogs were unable to capitalize on his tough sledding, as Josh Shaw intercepted Murray’s third-down pass. Murray’s second interception of the game kept the score 7-0 Bulldogs.
Florida got on the board with 7:05 remaining in the first half as Caleb Sturgis connected on a 38-yard field goal. The make capped a 15-play, 70-yard drive that lasted 6:28 and was highlighted by a 29-yard completion to Gillislee.
The Gators were successful on three third-down attempts to continue the drive before failing to pick up a third-and-15 to force the field goal attempt by Sturgis.
Georgia’s following drive ended the same way other earlier drives had: with a Murray interception.
His third, which floated into the hands of Matt Elam, was well over the head of his intended receiver. Elam returned the interception 31 yards to the 11-yard line of Georgia.
Equally unimpressive, the Gators were unable to take the lead as a poor third-down snap caused Driskel to miss an open Burton on third down. Florida settled for another field goal by Sturgis, cutting Georgia’s lead to 7-6.
Florida had an opportunity to take the lead prior to halftime. Following a punt by Georgia, the Gators took over from their own 40-yard line.
Driskel marched his offense down to the 5-yard line of Georgia and looked to be in position to head into halftime with the lead. However, Driskel made another crucial mistake, lofting a pass into the arms of Bacarri Rambo in the end zone.
Rambo returned the interception 10 yards, running out the clock.
The play was exemplary of the first half in general. The two teams combined for six turnovers, including four interceptions, and just 13 points, as Georgia led 7-6 at the break.
After forcing Georgia to punt on its opening second-half possession, Driskel picked up where he left off in the first half, tossing his second interception (fourth turnover) of the game, as he was hit while looking down the field.
Georgia was unable to put the ball in the end zone, eventually settling for a 29-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan to extend its lead to 10-6 with 8:34 remaining in the third quarter.
Jarvis Jones came up huge again on Florida’s next drive. Attempting to run a zone read, Burton fumbled the ball in the backfield, and Jarvis was first to the ball, giving Georgia possession at the Florida 26-yard line.
Again, Georgia was unable to put the ball in the end zone. This time, Morgan’s field goal attempt, a 37-yarder, was wide left, leaving the score at 10-6.
Neither team could establish any offense until the Gators took possession at the 42-yardline of Georgia with 11:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Driskel rushed for 19 yards on first down, moving the Gators to the 23-yard line. However, a substitution penalty and sack by Jones moved the Gators backward.
Still, Sturgis came through for the third time in the game. He connected on a 50-yard field goal with 9:41 remaining in the fourth quarter to cut Georgia’s lead to 10-9.
On the kick, Sturgis became the third player in Gators history to score 300 points in his career. The kick gave him 302 points.
With its lead cut to one, Georgia’s offense put together its finest possession of the game, sealing the victory.
Starting from his own 25-yard line, Murray connected with Malcolm Mitchell three times to move the ball down the field. On the third completion, Mitchell was able to evade most of Florida’s secondary as he took a quick pass 45 yards for a touchdown.
The score gave Georgia a 17-9 lead.
Florida responded on the ensuing drive, moving the ball down the field for the first time in the game.
It took eight plays for the Gators to move from their own 26-yard line to Georgia’s 22-yard line.
The ninth play was catastrophe.
Driskel completed a pass over the middle to Reed who streaked toward the end zone. However, near the goal line, Reed attempted to leap a defender and fumbled the ball into the end zone.
How close the Gators were.
Georgia recovered the fumble and was able to run out the remainder of the clock on the next drive.