Despite the eventual 19-point loss to Georgia, the Gators displayed an exemplary stretch of goal-line defense. Following Feleipe Franks’ fumble on the 1-yard line, the Bulldogs seemed poised to punch it in for six and take a double-digit lead. With two running backs that had little trouble carving up the Gators on the afternoon, the UGA offense began to once again pound the rock.
Except the Gators, with the game’s outcome still in flux, had no intention of budging.
Back-to-back runs by Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift resulted in a loss of a yard, although the drive stayed alive on a questionable pass-interference call on C.J. McWilliams. The Dawgs scooted closer to the goal line, mere inches away from a seemingly decisive score.
Yet once again, the Gators held strong backed up into their own end zone, and the Bulldogs had to settle for an 18-yard field goal. The Gators regained momentum momentarily, although they couldn’t turn the tide and pull out a victory. Regardless, the Gators displayed grit and fortitude — two variables the team can carry over into the four games remaining on the schedule.
“That just speaks volumes about my defense, and the will and motor they have to not drop the rope and just draw a line like Coach (Dan) Mullen always preaches. Just go hard every play and take advantage of every opportunity, and I was extremely proud of those guys,” senior defensive end Cece Jefferson said. “’I’m pretty sure they were tired, but you could look at them and they just look like the ‘300’ warriors — ready to play for the next play. So, hats off to my guys for that, and it’s just nice to know that I’ve got guys like that in the trenches with me that are just willing to put their body on the line and not give up the score.”
Defensive backs nowhere to be found
Although, despite Jefferson’s assertion, the Gators didn’t exactly have a full platoon prepared to put their bodies on the line.
Rumors throughout the week surrounded sophomore defensive back Brad Stewart, although Mullen did his best to dispel any speculation about Stewart’s eligibility prior to the contest. Despite making the trip to Jacksonville, Stewart and fellow sophomore defensive back Brian Edwards didn’t see the field Saturday, essentially confirming prior conjecture.
However, Mullen wasn’t quite ready to air the underclassmen’s dirty laundry.
“If guys don’t play, I’ll talk to the coaches about it,” Mullen said. “But if guys don’t play, that’s something we keep internally.”
Gators lose top corner — again
It didn’t take long for UF to sorely miss depth at defensive back. As Edwards and Stewart stood on the sideline, resigned to inactivity, the Gators would lose starting corner C.J. Henderson to a lower back injury in the first quarter. With Henderson out, the Dawgs swiftly drove down the field for the game’s opening score, and UF’s issues didn’t stop there. With Henderson out, reserve defensive back C.J. McWilliams was forced into extended action, and the UGA offense seemed eager to pick on him throughout the remainder of the contest.
Fortunately for Florida, early signs didn’t seem to indicate a long-term injury for the Miami native, although Mullen didn’t mince words when discussing missing the sophomore’s presence.
“I talked to the trainer and I don’t think it’s a structural injury, we’ll have to see. He got hit in the back,” Mullen said. “The way it went, you’re picking on some inexperienced guys.”
Emory Jones provides glimpse of future
With Franks struggling with his ball control, the Gators turned to a quarterback who has received a significant amount of hype despite having yet to throw a pass at the collegiate level.
Freshman Emory Jones, who snubbed Alabama and Ohio State to sign with the Gators in the final hour, entered in relief of Franks after the first play of the fourth quarter.
Jones’ first bit of action resulted in an eight-yard rush into Georgia territory, which drew acclaim from the Florida faithful in attendance. But Jones wanted more.
On the next sequence, Jones dropped back and appeared to have wide receiver Van Jefferson breaking open downfield. Jones delivered a beauty of a throw that looked poised to result in six points for UF, but UGA freshman defensive back Tyson Campbell committed pass interference as Jefferson extended his arms. The play resulted in a 15-yard gain for the Gators, and Franks promptly returned under center. It was a brief glimpse into the likely future at quarterback for the Gators — although it doesn’t mean Mullen intends to alter his plan for the former four-star prospect.
“I guess the talk all week was, you know, one of the freshman quarterbacks was going to be in the game a lot. That was true — it was just our’s,” Mullen said. “We thought he threw a pretty good deep ball in that situation right there, too. Put it on him. We’ll see as the season goes on. I don’t know. I think our plan will probably be to redshirt him still. So, we will see how the rest of the season plays out. You never know.”