Fourth-down failures costly for Gators

Florida Gators tight end Moral Stephens (82) smacks his hand on the ground after missing a pass during the Florida vs Georgia game. [Lauren Bacho/Special to The Sun]

JACKSONVILLE — Florida coach Jim McElwain rolled the dice on a pair of critical fourth-down plays against Georgia on Saturday.

Both times, the Gators came up empty. As a result, the Gators weren’t able to get back in the game in an eventual 42-7 loss to the No. 3 Bulldogs at EverBank Field.

In the first instance, with Florida down 21-0 in the second quarter, Florida elected to go for it on fourth-and-two from Georgia’s four-yard line rather than attempt a chip-shot field goal from Eddy Pineiro to get on the scoreboard.

“We felt at that juncture we needed touchdowns and not Eddy’s leg,” McElwain said.

On the 4th-and-2 play, Florida redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks rolled to his left but was pressured by Georgia senior linebacker Davin Bellamy. As a result, Franks’ off-balanced attempted pass to tight end Moral Stephens in the corner of the end zone fell incomplete.

“We would have liked to be able to punch that one in during the first half,” McElwain said.

Early in the third quarter, with Florida still down 21-0, the Gators had a chance to get on the scoreboard again after senior cornerback Duke Dawson had an interception in Georgia territory. But on a fourth-and-four from the Georgia 24-yard line, McElwain again elected to go for it. This time, Franks rolled right, and again went for the end zone. Senior tight end DeAndre Goolsby was open but dropped the Franks pass in the back of the end zone. But even had Goolsby caught the ball, it would have been called back on an offensive pass interference penalty because Goolsby pushed off of a Georgia defensive back to create separation. Georgia declined the penalty.

“They covered us well,” Franks said. “That’s what it boiled down to. They did a good job.”

Overall, the Gators were 4 of 15 on third conversions for the game and 0 of 2 on fourth down.

“That’s just up to us to produce on that,” Franks said. “He’s going to have faith in us and we’re going to have the faith in each other to get it going to get the conversion and move the chains or get in the end zone.”