The No. 9 Florida Gators didn’t have quite enough for the No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs in a 36-17 loss on Saturday. Georgia made Florida pay for its mistakes while making very few of its own, giving the Bulldogs the edge in a high stakes matchup.
The game showed that the Gators are close to being ready to play at a championship level, but a few weaknesses separate the good from the great. We give our most notable observations from the rivalry showdown here.
1. The secondary is hurting
When C.J. Henderson fell to the ground on the first defensive possession of the game, Georgia fans cheered while Florida fans held their breath. With the sophomore corner heading to the locker room never to return, the Gators were suddenly missing both pieces of the dynamic duo (Marco Wilson suffered an ACL tear early in the season).
From that point on, Florida could never uphold the standard it sets in defending the pass. The Gators gave up three passing touchdowns and 240 passing yards—the most they’ve given up in a single game this season.
C.J. McWilliams came in as Henderson’s replacement, and once the Bulldogs knew they could take advantage of him, they did just that.
Florida has a lot of work to do in both developing the defensive backs it has to work with and hauling in a load of recruits for the 2019 class at the position.
2. Interesting use of Emory Jones
The talk of the week leading up to this game was on the increased playing time of a mobile freshman quarterback, and all of that talk turned out to be true, just for the Gators instead of the Bulldogs.
Justin Fields, who has played in every game for Georgia this season, never saw the field. Meanwhile, Emory Jones played in just his second game and got the very first meaningful snaps of his career.
Aside from a drive-ending loss of yards on a third down play (and a fumble that he recovered), Jones looked much more comfortable on the field than he did against Charleston Southern in the first game of the season.
The play for a loss skewed his stats a little bit as he finished with just 12 yards on four rushes, but he had a couple of nice runs.
Along with his abilities in the ground game, he showed off a strong arm on his lone pass attempt. The beautiful deep ball to Van Jefferson would have been a touchdown with the Gators trailing 23-14 early in the fourth quarter, but Tyson Campbell was called for pass interference on the play instead.
That moved Florida up 15 yards, but ended Jones’ time in the game as Feleipe Franks came back in and the Gators were held to a field goal.
Seven points instead of three in that situation may have been game changing, but there is no looking back now.
While Jones is a playmaker who can give the Gators a much-needed boost on offense in many situations, Mullen said after the game that he still intends to follow through on the plan to redshirt him this season.
With only four games (five including the bowl game) left, Jones may still get some opportunities with two more games of eligibility remaining.
3. Offensive mistakes were killers
Another key to this game coming in was taking care of the football. The general consensus was that if either team made the mistake of turning the ball over, it could be the difference.
That came into play early on Florida’s first offensive possession. Jordan Scarlett had the yardage he needed and then some on a 3rd and 2 play, but Monty Rice got a hand on the ball, and all of a sudden, the Bulldogs were driving again in Florida territory.
Georgia put it in the end zone with ease to go up 10-0 halfway into the first quarter.
Then, with Florida driving on the Georgia 44-yard line the next possession, Franks had both Josh Hammond and Lamical Perine open, but threw it right into the hands of Tyrique McGhee.
The defense came up with a stop to follow the interception, but Florida’s offensive confidence started to go down the drain.
The Gators bounced back from the early struggles, but mistakes in the second half against the Bulldogs can be deadly.
Down 20-14 late in the third quarter, Florida was backed up all the way at its own 1-yard line. Franks took it himself to try and get some space for the offense to work with, but instead put it on the ground in a close call and Georgia recovered the ball.
Again, the defense came to the rescue by stopping the Bulldogs seven times in a row (due to a couple penalties mixed in) for a goal line stand and a field goal. That should have fired up the offense to return the favor, and it did get a field goal the next drive, but that would not be enough.
With the offense unable to sustain drives and put up points later in the game, it was only a matter of time before the defense started to break down. And when it did, the flood gates opened for a lopsided finish.