Entering Saturday’s contest, it was Florida which had established a pattern of emerging victorious on the backs of a turnover-hungry defense.
Yet the 19-point loss to Georgia revealed the Gators have several ball-security issues to work out of their own.
Florida coughed up the ball three times on the afternoon, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks being largely responsible for an early interception and a costly fumble at UF’s 1, while senior running back Jordan Scarlett put the ball on the ground in the team’s opening drive. Momentum was lost, and Georgia would swiftly capitalize.
The trio of mistakes resulted in 13 points for the Dawgs — an eventual difference-maker for a team that would eventually claw back and momentarily claim a one-point lead.
And those forced turnovers the Gators had seemingly turned into a habit? They were nowhere to be seen, as the Georgia offense maintained ball security en route to emerging victorious in a contest that essentially eliminated Florida from claiming the SEC East.
“If you look at what we did in the game — to turn the ball over, minus-3 turnover ratio. You’re not going to win many games doing that. Two of them inside, I think, our own 10-yard line,” Mullen said. “You can’t do that offensively. It just takes possessions from you and flips the field position all night long, giving them those opportunities.”
Hand those opportunities to the opposition, the Gators did. But it wasn’t simply the turnover margin where UF failed to turn the tide. All four of the Dawgs’ touchdowns on the night came on third down — a far cry for a defense that had shown a tendency to succeed on third-and-long scenarios.
“They score four touchdowns on third down. The situational parts of the game, we can’t do that. Two of them we had blown coverages on,” Mullen added. “Just poor execution, and as a team we’ve got to be much cleaner. We got to execute cleaner. You do that, you’re going to have the opportunity to become the team we want to become. We got a big challenge ahead of us. Our guys, we’ll see how they respond.”
In what was essentially a season-defining game, the Gators seemed to struggle with sound execution. For Cece Jefferson, a defensive end who pointed to Florida’s 42-7 loss to Georgia in 2017 as a catalyst for his return, the noticeable drop-off left him speechless.
“I honestly don’t have an answer for you. I have to start going through my mind, and I’m pretty sure other players have to start going through their minds,” Jefferson said. “You can never tell what somebody’s thinking. All you can really do is watch the film and hear what they got to say and just make corrections off it.”
As the Gators look to close the season strong — winning out would give UF a 10-win season, a massive turnaround for a program in disarray just a year ago to date — the focal point becomes polishing and altering the aspects of the game that led to Saturday’s outcome. However, Jefferson didn’t shy away from acknowledging the inevitable agony in the defeat.
“Everybody was disappointed. We felt as if we were the better team. We just came out and didn’t execute the way we were supposed to,” Jefferson said. “We just did a lot of things that got us in the situation we were in. And we’ve got to bounce back, you know, the season’s not over. It’s just one game, things like this happen. We’ve just got to keep moving forward and keep continuing this season.”