Lower-division school thumps Gators


Florida Gators defensive back Keanu Neal (42) leaves the field in tears following the Gators 26-20 loss to the Georgia Southern Eagles at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville Saturday, November 23, 2013. (Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun)

Doug Finger
Published: Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 8:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 9:01 p.m.

This disappointing Florida season experienced a seismic shift Saturday in The Swamp. It went from tough and painful to intolerable and embarrassing.

Facts

Three things

1. In one of the most embarrassing losses in school history, the Gators were manhandled by Georgia Southern (7-4) giving up 429 yards, all on the ground, in their sixth consecutive defeat.
2. The Gators (4-7) will finish with their first losing season since 1979 when they went 0-10-1 and will not go to a bowl for the first time since 1990.
3. The anemic UF offense, behind third-team quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, could muster a mere 279 total yards in the Gators’ first loss to an FCS team.
-- Robbie Andreu

With the emphasis on embarrassing.

That’s what it becomes when you lose to an FCS school for the first time in the program’s proud history, at home, no less.

When you give up an astounding 429 yards rushing to a four-touchdown underdog.

When you get physically pushed around by a team that is literally playing out of its league.

When your opponent doesn’t even need to complete a pass to kick your tail.

When you lose to Georgia Southern 26-20 before 82,459 shocked fans for a sixth consecutive loss, one that drops the Gators to 4-7.

“Very disappointed for our program, and the embarrassment in this situation,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “We’re struggling offensively, and it has infected our entire team right now. That’s the struggle we’ve got.”

There is no longer any doubt how this mess of a season is going to end for the Gators — with the school’s first losing record since 1979 and first absence from postseason play since 1990.

“Very shocking,” senior offensive guard Jon Halapio said. “The morale on this team is at an all-time low. We have a lack of leadership. We just need to really tighten up as a team.

“Just losing. … I hate it. Just the way the whole season has gone. I’m very disappointed. I’m sorry.

“It’s very tough (to be in this situation). We’ve been hit with so much adversity this year, but it’s not an excuse for losing to these people. We just didn’t play well. Never (thought this would happen). Not at Florida.”

It was a stunning, shocking, numbing loss for the injury-depleted Gators.

The Florida defense, which looked like one of the nation’s strongest early in the season, was clueless in its attempt to stop the Eagles’ triple-option offense. The Gators gave up big play after big play — 12 runs of double-digit yards in all — and surrendered a humbling 429 yards rushing, the fourth-most in school history.

The Eagles had so much success running around and through the Florida defense that quarterback Kevin Ellison attempted only three passes all day, completing none.

“This is what they do for a living,” Muschamp said of the Georgia Southern option attack. “It’s hard to defend them. The way you defend these teams is you change the scoreboard on the other side, and you get them out of rhythm and you create negative plays and you get them behind the down and distance.

“We were never able to do that. We were battling second-and-6. We were battling second-and-4.”

And giving up big, game-changing plays, including runs of 66, 53 and 45 yards.

The Florida offense also faltered with redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg starting his second consecutive game at quarterback for the injured Tyler Murphy.

Going with a similar conservative approach to a week ago, the Gators did not hit a pass down the field until Mornhinweg threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Solomon Patton to tie the score 20-20 with only 5:41 left in the game.

Overall, Mornhinweg threw for only 122 yards on 14 completions in 25 attempts.

For the game, the Gators gained only 279 total yards against what has been a suspect defense all season. UF’s only consistent weapon continues to be true freshman tailback Kelvin Taylor, who rushed for 92 yards on 22 carries.

When the offense finally generated some momentum for the Gators with that late touchdown, the defense gave it right back by giving up a 53-yard run up the middle by reserve fullback William Banks on a third-and-2 play that led to the winning touchdown — a 14-yard run by Jerick McKinnon with 2:44 to play.

The Gators managed to drive to the Georgia Southern 17-yard line in the closing seconds, but Mornhinweg’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete just short of the goal line as time expired.

On the previous play, Mornhinweg overthrew wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, who was open in the right corner of the end zone.

“I’ve got to give him a shot to score there, and that’s on me,” Mornhinweg said. “I’ve got to give him the shot to make the play.”

As has happened throughout this six-game losing streak, the Gators failed to make plays on both sides of the ball that could have made a difference.

“We’re just upset over the loss,” Mornhinweg said. “We’re the Florida Gators. We should be winning every game. We’re upset about the loss. We’ve got to regroup and get ready for Florida State.”

With the No. 2 Seminoles coming to The Swamp on Saturday, the Gators are now staring at a 4-8 season, the worst since the 1979 team went 0-10-1.

And this is a team that started the season ranked in the top 10 nationally.

“It’s all disappointing. It’s hard to really measure it,” Muschamp said. “I’m very disappointed. We’ve got to get it fix, and we will.

“At the end of the day, you take ownership with where we are. Nobody needs to point a finger right now. It’s time to look in the mirror. I’ve told (the players) that several times this season.

“Regardless of situation and circumstances, we need to produce better. That starts with me. So, that’s what we’ll do.”

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