JACKSONVILLE — This rivalry game was pretty much over midway through the first quarter Saturday.
But when did this humbling Florida loss to arch-rival Georgia first begin?
Was it Monday, when UF coach Jim McElwain, out of nowhere, brought up death threats?
Was it Wednesday, when he apologized for his remarks but still refused to clarify them?
Or was it Saturday morning, when social media caught fire about the possibility of McElwain losing his job, maybe as soon as today?
Whenever it began, there was no doubt about where it basically ended, with 7:32 still remaining — in the first quarter.
Playing like a team that was distracted and indifferent, the Gators came out flat and were knocked down by a 21-0 blitzkrieg in the game’s opening minutes that led to a 42-7 rout at the hands of No. 3 Georgia before 84,107 at EverBank Field.
It was UF’s largest loss in the rivalry since falling to the Bulldogs 44-0 in 1982.
The Gators have been dealing with distractions all season. And this latest — and greatest — distraction is one that was created by McElwain on Monday and hovered all week.
It obviously followed the Gators to Jacksonville, where McElwain learned Saturday morning about a post on Twitter claiming that school officials were negotiating with his agent, Jimmy Sexton, about a possible buyout that would lead to his termination.
McElwain talked to his players about the report heading into the team breakfast Saturday morning.
“It’s hard to tell (how it affected our players),” McElwain said. “I thought our guys, they prepared well all week. Obviously, I was made aware of the stuff right before we walked into pregame meal. First time I’d heard anything of that nature. I talked to them immediately. We’ll see.
“At the end of the day, we were all brought here to win and we haven’t done it. My concern isn’t about my job. My concern is about these players, our staff. We have a fantastic staff — coaches, support staff, their families. That’s the concern. It isn’t about me.”
The question is what happens next? There are reports that school officials are in discussions about whether they can fire McElwain without cause due to the claims he made about death threats that he would not provide details about.
As it stands now, McElwain has a $12.9 million buyout in his contact.
McElwain said he has not had discussions with UF athletic director Scott Stricklin and school officials about his job status.
“I haven’t been told anything,” he said. “There’ve been no conversations about that. I talked to (Stricklin) when he was down here, I guess on Thursday. I talked to him on the phone, just normal talk of what was going on, but nothing along those lines.”
McElwain was asked if he would be surprised if he’s no longer UF’s coach today.
“Nothing in this world surprises,” he said. “I know what I was brought here to do. Look, we haven’t been good on offense. I get it. We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t won enough, haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life.
“That is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it. There’s no doubt. Like I said, my concern has to do with those players, seeing them in that locker room and seeing that stuff just work so hard to get to where we are even at now, that’s what’s hard is to just see the unknown, you know?”
McElwain sounds like someone who would like to keep his job. But the decision is not his — and that decision could come down soon, maybe as early as today.
“This is a dream job,” he said. “It’s a great place. It’s great fans. Great support. The resource is there to win. Obviously, I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to deliver in the time I’ve been here. But you know what, it’s an opportunity. This is one of those places that I’ve said from the start, that you have an opportunity, even being able to be in a game like this, it’s something that’s real special.”
There certainly was nothing special about Florida’s performance Saturday. The Gators (3-4 overall and 3-3 in the SEC) fell into the big early hole and never had a chance to climb out against a team that was clearly better.
1. Midway through the first quarter, the game was basically over after the No. 3 Bulldogs sprinted to a 21-0 lead, the crushing blow coming on a 74-yard touchdown run by Sony Michel.
2. Struggling Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks certainly aided the Georgia cause. He gave up a pick-six in the first quarter and lost a fumble for a touchdown in the third quarter.
3. Franks was benched in the fourth quarter and replaced by Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire, who led the Gators to their only score — a 1-yard TD run by Mark Thompson with only 2:42 left in the game.
— Robbie Andreu
“It was a shocker,” sophomore safety Chauncey Gardner Jr. said of Georgia’s 21-0 start that featured a pick-six and a 74-yard TD run by Sony Michel. “We knew they could put up points, but not in that short of a time. We just have to move on and play the next game.”
It was a nightmare day for struggling quarterback Feleipe Franks and the equally struggling offense. Franks threw an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter and lost a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown in the third quarter.
And the passing game was non-existent. The Gators, who knew coming into the game they would need to complete some passes down the field to have a chance against the UGA defense, threw for a mere 66 yards, 36 by No. 2 quarterback Malik Zaire who led the Gators to their only score — a 1-yard run by Mark Thompson — with only 2:42 left in the game.
Franks completed only seven of 19 passes and was sacked five times.
“I take all the blame,” Franks said. “I have to play better. I’m not going to fold. I’m just going to keep working and we’ll come out next week ready to play.”
The Gators know they’ll be playing next Saturday at Missouri. But they can’t be certain who their head coach is going to be.
Who: Florida vs. Missouri
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Missouri
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
“You have to keep going, keep pushing,” Gardner said. “We’re a team. We stand behind Coach Mac. He stands behind us and this program stands behind us.
“Outsiders are going to be outsiders. We’re not going to worry about them. We’re just going to keep doing what we have to do.”
While the Gators seemed distracted Saturday, especially early in the game, the Bulldogs clearly were not. They were locked in and focused.
“I thought we came out with a really good demeanor and a good attitude,” UGA coach Kirby Smart said. “Throughout the game, the kids had a really good focus. They were not distracted by streaks and those kind of things. They focused on the job at hand and got it done.”