Gators losing streak now at three
Published: Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 10:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 10:42 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE — In a game where they looked bewildered, beaten and on the verge of being blown out, the Florida Gators managed to pick themselves up off the ground in the second half Saturday, wipe the blood off their flattened noses and make an inspired comeback against arch-rival Georgia.
1. The Gators turned a potential blowout loss into a tight game, but their second-half comeback fell short, with the Bulldogs managing to hold the ball for the final 8:17 of the game to secure the victory.
2. Florida hurt itself with two red-zone failures in the first half and some crushing penalties in the second half when the Gators were trying to rally to a victory.
3. It was the Gators’ third consecutive loss to the Bulldogs and drops Will Muschamp to 0-7 in the rivalry. He’s 0-3 as a coach at UF and 0-4 as a player at Georgia.
-- Robbie Andreu
They made it close. They almost pulled it out.
But close and almost are not good enough. Not at Florida. And especially not in this rivalry game that served as an elimination game in the SEC East race.
Despite all the good in the second half, the Gators did not have enough plays in them (offensively or defensively) to overcome a disastrous first half and fell to the Bulldogs 23-20 before 84,693 at EverBank Field. It was UGA's third consecutive victory in the rivalry.
“It definitely hurts,” UF quarterback Tyler Murphy said. “To come out of the halftime, you could feel the energy from the guys. We definitely felt we could come back and win it. We had so much momentum.
“You couldn't tell me we weren't going to win it knowing that we felt self assured. It was unfortunate (we did not complete the comeback), but I'm proud of the guys.”
Regardless of the many ifs, ands and buts in this game, it goes down as a painful and damaging loss for the Gators, who fall to 4-4 on the season and 3-3 in the SEC. UF is out of the conference race and now facing a tough battle just to get bowl eligible (six wins). UGA improves to 5-3 and 4-2.
“It's definitely shocking. We didn't expect to be 4-4,” Murphy said. “That's just the way things go. But there is no team I'd rather like to be a part of other than this 4-4 team. We're going to keep going and keep fighting every week.
“We'll try to knock everybody off. No one is going to feel sorry for us. We're going to come out next week and be ready to play.”
The Gators got off to such a horrendous start Saturday that it appeared the game was basically over. UF trailed 23-3 after the defense had been exploited for big play after big play — all adding up to quarterback Aaron Murray and the 'Dogs piling up 335 total yards in the first half.
As bad as their situation appeared, the Gators weren't ready to quit or concede. They came out in the second half and dominated on defense, coming up with lots of stops and some big plays, including a fumble recovery by tackle Leon Orr and a safety on a sack by cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.
Mack Brown scored on a 5-yard run with 6:21 to go in the third quarter that made it a 23-10 game. Later in the quarter, Purifoy nailed Murray in the end zone for a safety.
Then early in the fourth quarter, the Gators made it a three-point game, 23-20, on a 14-yard TD run by Murphy, followed by a two-point conversion pass from Murphy to tight end Clay Burton.
UF had all the momentum. Then a few minutes later it had the ball again after stuffing UGA tailback Todd Gurley for no gain on a fourth-and-1 from the UGA 39.
But on the play, the Gators were penalized 15 yards on a dead-ball foul when linebacker Neiron Ball removed his helmet. So, instead of starting on the UGA 39, the Gators started from their own 46.
The drive died after one first down when Murphy was sacked for a 14-yard loss on a third-and-12 play from the UGA 43.
The UF offense did not touch the ball again, with the Bulldogs managing to kill the game's final 8:17, coming up with four critical third-down conversions.
“They're upset. They're hurt,” UF coach Will Muschamp said of his players. “We'll rebound and we'll be fine.
“I'm very proud of our players and their effort, their intensity, their fight, their resolve to battle back. We dug ourselves too big of a hole, especially with the big plays (given up) on defense. Third down was a killer obviously there at the end of the game, not being able to get off the field.”
This is a game that featured lots of ebbs and flows and many turning points. Perhaps the biggest was Muschamp's decision to go for a fourth-and-10 from the UGA 40 with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.
The Gators lost three yards on a short pass from Murphy to Quinton Dunbar.
Then Georgia took advantage of the failed UF gamble and quickly drove deep into UF territory, converting a third-and-22 that allowed the Bulldogs to kick a 32-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan as time expired in the half to give UGA a commanding 23-3 lead.
It was only three points. But those three points turned out to be the difference in the game.
“We want to play aggressively,” Muschamp said, when asked about his fourth-down decision. “I told the players before the game we want to play an aggressive style. We got exactly what we wanted coverage wise. We've just got to run through the catch. We've got to convert that situation.
“If (Georgia) had timeouts, I probably would have (punted), but they didn't have any, and I felt like we needed to call the game aggressively and let our players play aggressively.”
Muschamp vowed the Gators will stick together and continue to battle, just like they did in the second half Saturday.
“Just move on,” Muschamp said. “We've got to coach our football team. Control the things you can control, and that's what we're going to do. We're going to be fine, I can assure you of that.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.