JACKSONVILLE — As Georgia celebrated and half the fans in the stadium cheered wildly and woofed it up, Florida’s players were left to trudge off the field with a strange “what if” question Saturday night.
What if the Gators showed up at the start of the game?
What if they didn’t wait until the fourth quarter to start clicking on offense?
What if the defense wasn’t eating nachos in the stands every time there was a big third down in the first half?
OK, I made that last part up, but this was a game where a Florida team that prides itself on the little things had a whole lot of little mistakes (and one big one) add up to one big mess.
The game was won at the end with another clutch third-down pass from Jake Fromm, who showed chirping fans he still has something special. But it was lost in the beginning.
I mean, when you’re goal is to play from ahead, starting the game with two timeouts on the first drive, an incomplete pass on fourth-and-1 because YOU CANNOT RUN THE BALL, a big penalty and a defense that seemed to be beat consistently on passing plays, well, boys and girls, that’s not exactly a recipe for winning a game of this magnitude.
“You never want to come out and start a game like that,” said center Nick Buchanan.
Maybe the off week actually hurt Florida, sapped the Gators of some of their momentum.
But that’s just an excuse. Georgia had the week off, too.
A team with a ton on the line played like the weight was too heavy.
“The only people we can be disappointed in is ourselves,” said quarterback Kyke Trask.
Trask did a lot of good things in the game, 257 passing yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
But he took a couple of bad sacks and made some less than ideal throws. Certainly, nobody is going to heap blame on a quarterback who had no running game and whose coach abandoned the running game for awhile.
“We didn’t call too many running plays after we fell behind,” said Dan Mullen.
That was the thing about the way this game unfolded. It couldn’t have gone much worse in terms of the Gator game plan. Play from ahead, make the Bulldogs panic.
Instead, Florida’s awful first quarter let Georgia and the No. 1 defense in the SEC and a quarterback who knows what it means to be in games like this be perfect frontrunners.
We’ve seen this Florida team at different times this year. The one with a secondary that looks overrated and an offense that is one-dimensional and a defense that can’t get off the field.
“We kind of found our identity,” said Trask. “It took us three quarters.”
Yeah and that’s something you can’t do in a game like this. You have to be sharp from the opening kickoff and — for some reason — this team was painfully dull.
I know that a lot of breaks went against the Gators, but you have to deal with bad breaks and bad calls. What you can’t be dealing with is self-inflicted bad breaks.
“That’s us. We gotta coach better,” Mullen said.
Yep. And these guys have to play better. It’s not over in the East and this never felt like a College Football Playoff team. It can still be a real good season, but only if this team plays at a different level.
I think that level is attainable.
But if they learned one thing it’s that you can get away with starts like that at South Carolina. But in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, you better bring your puddin’ snacks at the start of the game, through the half, out of the gate in the second half and all the way through the fourth quarter.
There were a lot of angry and disappointed people wearing orange and blue leaving TIAA Bank Field on Saturday night.
One of them was Mullen, who blew up on receivers coach Billy Gonzales after one personnel mistake and at defensive coordinator Todd Granthan after, like the 300th Georgia third-down conversion.
“We don’t control our own destiny any more,” he said, “and that’s frustrating to us.”
Join the club, said every Gator fan who does not enjoy three straight losses to a hated rival.
The frustration will be a wave of white noise all week. Maybe for months. Maybe until next year.
“We’re still a good team,” said receiver Freddie Swain. “I’m not letting this loss define us.”
Ok, but it’s a part of the definition.
A big part.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.