In order to win a Top-10 match-up, you have to do a lot of things right and some things have to go your way. A deciding factor in any game is third-down conversions and it happened to play a huge role in Jacksonville.
Saturday, the game within the game (third-down) cost the No. 6 Florida Gators. Their rival, No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs, took care of them 24-17 and made it look for too easy on pivotal downs.
On their way to a victory that may decide the SEC East, the Bulldogs went 12-for-18 on third-down. In moments when the Gators had a chance to get the ball back in the hands of their offense, Georgia continued to convert and wear down the defense.
“You can go in any direction you want,” Florida head coach Dan Mullen said post-game, regarding Georgia’s successes on third-down. “We had missed tackles, they got helped out a couple of times, and we had a missed coverage.”
Throughout the game, it didn’t seem to matter what the Bulldogs would call on third-down. In shorter situations, the Gators couldn’t muster enough push to stop the run. And in long situations, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm had all-day in the pocket and had open receivers to throw to time-and-time again.
“We got to get to the quarterback,” said Gators defensive end Jonathan Greenard. “He was too comfortable back there.”
On third downs, Fromm finished 10-for-13 passing for 119 yards and a score.
The phrase that’s surrounded Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham from his time at Georgia was a familiar one Saturday in Jacksonville.
When they needed it the most, the Gators just couldn’t come up with timely stops of the Bulldogs offense.
There’s one third-down conversion the Bulldogs had that may haunt the Gators for some time. Down a score at the time, Florida needed one more stop to give their offense the ball back.
After stopping the run, the Gators put themselves in a good position to get off the field. It was third-and-seven with under three minutes to go. But the work they put in before that play was all for nod.
Fromm dropped back to pass and like most times he went back in the pocket, he had all the time in the world. He threw a pass up in the air for Eli Wolf and for a minute, the Gators looked like they may be getting the ball back.
But Wolf would haul in the pass for 22-yards, seemingly ending all hope the Gators had and clinching the Bulldogs victory.
“I felt like that told the story,” said senior linebacker David Reese II. “We did a good job sticking around, but we had to get off the field, and we didn’t.”
It may have been the play-calling, or it could’ve been the execution, but the bottom line is that the Gators needed to be better in these situations and they weren’t.
“We called a lot of different defenses,” Mullen said. “There’s a lot of different answers for why they were good on third downs, not one thing.”
On the flip side of the ball, the story was the same. Offensively, Florida couldn’t convert on third down and their offensive couldn’t hit its full stride.
“It was just miscommunication, penalties on us, we were shooting ourselves in the foot,” said wide receiver Freddie Swain post game.
The Gators finished the game going just 2-for-9 on third-down. They didn’t convert one until the fourth quarter.
“It’s very frustrating,” said center Nick Buchanan post-game. “Third downs are a big part of the game… usually the team who stops them on third down on defense and converts on third down on offense wins the game, and we saw that tonight.”
As a result of not being able to put together full-drives early, the Gators offense couldn’t find their sync. They eventually would in the fourth quarter, when they were converting on third, but at that point it was too late.
7-points was all that separated the two rivals. But if your Florida, you can’t help but imagine what the score would’ve ended as had they been able to come up with a couple timely stops and critical conversions themselves.
“We needed to stay on the field better on offense and get off the field on defense,” Mullen said.
Chalk up their struggles to coaching or lack of execution, but the Gators need to solve their third-down woes as soon as possible before it costs them again.