Florida football: 5 takeaways from the Florida Gators' 42-20 loss to No. 1 Georgia

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

JACKSONVILLE — The Florida Gators stumbled to their fifth loss in their last six meetings with rival Georgia, falling 42-20 to the No. 1 Bulldogs Saturday before 75,868 at TIAA Bank Field

The Gators (4-4. 1-4 SEC) were unable to overcome a 28-3 halftime deficit in first-year coach Billy Napier's first game in the rivalry matchup.

Florida made a valiant comeback attempt in the third quarter, scoring 17 straight points to cut the Georgia lead to 28-20 on a 78-yard TD pass from quarterback Anthony Richardson to wide receiver Xzavier Henderson, the longest touchdown pass in the rivalry since Florida receiver Ricky Nattiel's 94-yard TD catch in 1984.

But Georgia (8-0, 5-0 SEC) responded with rushing TDs from Daijun Edwards and Kenny McIntosh late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter to secure the win. 

Napier said he challenged the Gators at halftime to play for one another.

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"I gained a level of respect for those guys for how they responded at halftime," Napier said. "That's what I say I respect the most, they care, they really do care.

"I think today might have been a turning point to some degree relative to what is really in there, in your heart, in your soul, between your ears."

Richardson, in his second start in the rivalry, finished with 271 yards passing and one TD and 19 yards rushing,

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Staying with his guy:Billy Napier maintains faith in defensive coordinator Patrick Toney

Here are five takeaways from the game:

Richardson, offense start slowly

Florida's offense struggled to deal with Georgia's more physical front early in the game. The Gators had three-and-outs on their first three possessions, failing to record a first down until the 11:19 mark of the first quarter. Florida's offensive line was unable to open holes early as the Gators rushed for just 13 yards on 13 carries in the first half.

"Inefficient runs, getting behind the sticks," Napier said. "Playing third and long against a group that can rush the passer."

The lone big play in the first half for the Gators was a 41-yard pass from Richardson to receiver Justin Shorter, which set up an Adam Mihalek field goal that kept the Gators from being shut out in the first half.

In the second half, Florida's offense showed signs of life, with Richardson leading the Gators on a 75-yard TD drive to start the third quarter and connecting with Henderson on a 78-yard TD pass later in the quarter. But it wasn't enough to rally back from down 25 points at halftime. Richardson was more aggressive running the football in the second half, finishing with 11 carries for a net gain of 48 yards (he lost 29 yards on sacks).

"I was just trying to be physical, get the ball moving," Richardson said. "Obviously we couldn't move it that well in the first half so I tried to help us a little bit and be physical on the ground."

Napier said some adjustments were made offensively in the second half.

 "I also think we ran some of the same plays and we had success running them," Napier said. "This game often times is not what you are doing but how you are doing it, the precision, the detail, the synchronization."

Amari Burney sparks defense in second half

Burney sparked an up-and-down day for UF's defense in the third quarter by forcing a fumble recovered by safety Trey Dean and intercepting a Stetson Bennett pass. Florida converted the two turnovers into 10 points to cut Georgia's lead to 28-20 with 3:31 left in the third quarter.

Florida's defense forced three turnovers but surrendered 555 yards of offense. Georgia went 6 for 12 on third down conversions and 2 for 3 on fourth down conversions.

"You gotta understand that what happened was a product of how we played at times," Florida defensive lineman Tyreak Sapp said. "The good things that happened are things that we had to make happen, things that we made happen. The better we play together as a team on defense, the better outcomes we will have."

With Florida down 28-20 in the third quarter, Georgia re-established control of the game with a six-play, 78-yard TD drive that was capped by a 22-yard TD run from Edwards to put the Bulldogs up 35-20.

"Things happened in between the years because half of the game is not physical," Sapp said. "It's just a lot of things in between the ears that we can take care of and be better as a defense."

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) is sacked by Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Chaz Chambliss (32) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.The Georgia Bulldogs held off the Florida Gators 42-20. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

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Georgia tight end Brock Bowers too tough for Gators to cover

Each time Georgia needed a big play, it went to Bowers, who finished with five catches for 154 yards and one TD. Bowers hauled in a pass deflected by Burney for a 73-yard TD catch in the second quarter, putting Georgia up 21-3.

Then, on a fourth-and-7 play, Bowers beat Dean in man coverage for a 26-yard catch down to UF's 4-yard line. On the next play, Kenny McIntosh scored on a 4-yard TD run, putting Georgia up 42-20 with 11:44 left in the fourth quarter. 

RB Trevor Etienne with a solid day on the ground

Florida freshman running back Trevor Etienne sparked the run game for the Gators in the second half with 11 carries for 53 yards and a TD. Etienne scored in the same end zone that his older brother, Jacksonville Jaguars RB Travis Etienne, scored the week before against the New York Giants.

Etienne also had a 33-yard return on a kickoff in the first half and appears poised to handle those duties going forward. "He's a great player," Richardson said. "He's been playing well all season. He's a young guy and he goes hard."

Kicker Adam Mihalek breaks slump

Napier showed faith in Mihalek in the first half, allowing him to attempt a 52-yard try despite Mihalek entering the game 1-for-5 from 40 yards or more. Mihalek made the career-long 52-yard attempt to cut the Georgia lead to 21-3, then later connected on a 27-yarder in the third quarter to improve to 7-for-11 on the season.