[Missouri game info updated below] JACKSONVILLE — Inability to take care of the football. Failure to execute.
These are the things that doomed Florida on Saturday against Georgia.
During their five-game winning streak that vaulted them into the Top 10 just last week, the Gators had created a defined and successful identity. They had developed into a team that didn’t turn the ball over, that executed in the clutch, that was resilient, that showed steady improvement from week to week, performance to performance.
On Saturday, for some reason, they forgot who they had become. The result was 36-17 loss to No. 7 Georgia before 84,463 at TIAA Bank Field that basically eliminates the Gators (6-2, 4-2 SEC) in the Eastern Division race.
They were out of character.
They did not make progress. They turned the ball over three times — twice deep inside their own territory — and gave up four touchdowns on third-down plays. This team can’t win that way, and it didn’t.
“I’ve said for the most part, every game we’ve played better from one week to the next,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “I can’t say that today. We need to get that better by next Saturday.”
Saturday’s game pretty much came down to those seven plays — the three turnovers and the four third-down touchdowns. Three of touchdowns came on passes, two of which occurred on blown coverages in an injury-depleted secondary that was missing cornerback CJ Henderson, who injured his back in the first quarter and did not return.
“I don’t think we played very well at all,” Mullen said. “It might have been our worst executing performance of the year, and I’m really disappointed in that. We’ll learn as a team how to play in big-game situations. You’ve got to execute.
“If you’re minus-three in turnover ratio, you’re not going to win many games. Twice inside our own 10-yard line. You can’t do that offensively. And they scored four touchdowns on third down. In situational parts of the game, we can’t do that. Two of them we had blown coverages. Just poor execution.”
Two of the turnovers belonged to quarterback Feleipe Franks. He threw an interception that killed a scoring opportunity in the first half and lost a fumble on his own 1-yard line late in the third quarter that led to a field goal that gave the Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1) a two-score lead, 23-14. The field goal came after the defense made a remarkable six-play goal-line stand.
Franks, who had been showing steady progress since the loss to Kentucky in Week 2, seemed to take a step back Saturday. He had the two turnovers and completed only 13 of 21 passes for just 105 yards.
He did have some encouraging moments — a 1-yard TD in the second quarter and a 36-yard TD strike to wide receiver Freddie Swain on the opening possession of the second half that gave UF its only lead, 14-13.
But the negative outweighed the positive.
“You try to avoid turnovers,” Franks said. “I’ve got to get better at that. We’ve got to keep on grinding, keep on working. Come back Monday and keep on going.
“We’ve got to keep working to get more explosive plays, and not try too hard to make those plays, but for each person just to do their assignment. We were just trying too hard to make those plays that we just weren’t doing our assignment football.”
The defense also had problems in that area. They were undisciplined at times, trying to do too much, and got burned on the ground and especially through the air. The depleted secondary gave up 240 yards passing and three touchdowns to Jake Fromm.
Overall, this was not the same team it was during the five-game winning streak.
“There are times in the game where you say, ‘OK, we’re playing like the Florida Gators.’ Like we expect to play,” Mullen said. “The goal-line stand, that’s who we expect to be. We come out in the second half and go right down the field and score. Do those things.
“In other situations, we just weren’t as clean as we needed to be.”
The Gators were still very much in the game early in the fourth quarter. With 11:12 to play, Evan McPherson made a 42-yard field goal to make it a one-score game, 23-17.
But from that point on, Fromm and the Georgia offense ran through and passed over the UF defense, taking control of the game with a 24-yard TD reception by a wide-open Terry Godwin and a 33-yard TD run by D’Andre Swift.
“Everybody was disappointed (in the locker room after the game),” senior defensive end/linebacker Cece Jefferson said. “We felt as if we were the better team. We just didn’t come out and execute the way we were supposed to. We just did a lot of things that got us in the situations we were in.
“We all reminded each other that we have to bounce back from this. This season isn’t over. We’ve got to keep moving forward.”
It was a tough loss for UF and a huge win for Georgia, which will play Kentucky for the Eastern Division title Saturday in Lexington.
“I am really proud of our guys,” UGA coach Kirby Smart said. “They have worked so hard and dealt with a lot of criticism. They played their tails off in a very physical game against a good Florida team.”
Who: Missouri (4-4, 0-4) vs. No. 9 Florida (6-2, 4-2)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850