The same team that beat Tennessee with a 63-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play, that overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win at Kentucky a week later, has suddenly forgotten how to finish.
Just like that, the Florida Gators have gone from strong finishers to fourth-quarter flops.
“You know, we just haven’t finished,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “We had two opportunities to finish games and we didn’t. That’s what these young guys have got to figure out. When you give yourself an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter you’ve got to take advantage of it. And we didn’t do that the last two ballgames.”
In the back-to-back SEC losses to LSU and Texas A&M, the Gators played well enough to put themselves in a position to win both games heading into the decisive fourth quarter. But both times, they came up empty. Quite literally.
Down just a point to LSU heading into the fourth quarter, the Gators had all the momentum and a big, loud crowd urging them on. But they went out and produced almost nothing over the game’s final 15 minutes. UF could muster only one first down and 37 yards in the quarter, allowing the Tigers to escape with a 17-16 win.
A week later against A&M, it was more of the same. Or is it less of the same?
On the first play of the fourth quarter, wide receiver Dre Massey took a lateral/pass from Feleipe Franks and scored from six yards out to give the Gators a 17-10 lead.
Again, the Gators had all the momentum and the frenzied Swamp crowd behind them.
And again, nothing the rest of the game.
Over the game’s final 14:54, the Gators were outscored 9-0 and ran all of nine offensive plays for just 21 yards. UF’s bid for a last-minute comeback died on the first play when Franks threw an interception over the middle to effectively end the game.
The same team that won big in the fourth quarter earlier in the season, now has a finishing problem.
Heading into Saturday’s game against No. 3 Georgia, the emphasis this week is to finish if the Gators still have a chance to win the game going into the fourth quarter.
“Well, I think that’s one of the things you do in practice, the points of emphasis,” McElwain said. “We’ve been pretty good at it in the past. We slipped up in two weeks and the big thing is you don’t hit the panic button. You obviously talk about it, call it what it is, and continue to move forward.”
As down as some are on the 3-3 Gators, they have had a chance to win every game since the opener, losing those two games to LSU and A&M by a combined three points thanks to an inability to close.
The Gators seem confident they can hang in there again in Jacksonville and put themselves in a position to win in the fourth quarter.
“We’re not satisfied, we know what we have to do,” sophomore safety Chauncey Gardner Jr. said. “We haven’t been blow out. We’ve been playing tough all year, we just couldn’t make plays when things were going wrong. We’ve just go to get back doing what we’ve been doing, playing football.”
Some look at the fourth-quarter fades and point to the suspensions and all the injuries as a possible reason.
But McElwain won’t go there.
“There are no excuses,” he said. “You take advantage of whatever opportunity that is given and figure out a way to go do it. We haven’t finished. That’s our responsibility. We expect to win. We’ll continue that moving forward. I like these guys, man. They come to work every day and they’re a fun group to be around.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.
Who: Florida (3-3, 3-2 SEC) vs. No. 3 Georgia (7-0, 4-0)
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850