Self-inflicted wounds take down Gators

Nov 3, 2019 | 0 comments

Saturday’s SEC showdown in Jacksonville with No. 8 Georgia was always going to be a stiff challenge for the No. 6 Gators.

The Bulldogs have recruited at an elite level in recent seasons and are loaded on both lines of scrimmage. They entered the season with national championship aspirations, but a setback at South Carolina three weeks ago left them facing plenty of questions about the direction of their season. They wanted to prove that the SEC East still goes through them and beat their biggest rival for the third year in a row.

Not unexpectedly, UGA (7-1, 4-1 SEC) defeated UF (7-2, 4-2) 24-17. However, after the game, the Gators insisted that they have no one to blame but themselves. Georgia didn’t do anything that they hadn’t prepared for over the past two weeks. Instead, they beat themselves with a plethora of mental gaffes.

Offensively, UF punted just three times, didn’t turn the ball over and were perfect in the red zone. However, ineptness in the running game (21 yards), costly penalties, sacks and converting just two of nine third downs kept them from putting points on the board most of the day.

“The only people we can be disappointed with is ourselves because they didn’t do anything we didn’t expect them to do,” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “We prepared for everything, and it was more disappointment because we’re executing our things we should have done right.”

On defense, the biggest concern entering the game was whether the Gators could slow down UGA running back D’Andre Swift. They did about as good a job as could be expected in limiting him to 86 yards on 25 carries. But they failed to cash in on the third-and-longs by allowing the Bulldogs to convert 12 of 18 third downs.

UF coach Dan Mullen said one of their biggest keys entering the game was to get off to a fast start.

“You want to play with a lead against them,” he said. “They don’t play very well from behind, I don’t think.”

Unfortunately for him, the Gators never got to test his theory.

Their start couldn’t have been much worse. On the opening possession of the game, Mullen had to burn two timeouts. The first resulted from not having the correct personnel on the field for the play-call, and they only had 10 players on the field before the second timeout. On third-and-1 from the UGA 40-yard line, reserve tight end Dante Lang moved early and changed the dynamic of the drive. Two plays later, the Bulldogs stopped them on fourth-and-1.

The Gators forced the Bulldogs into a third-and-14 on their first drive. Quarterback Jake Fromm threw a pass to Lawrence Cager on a crossing route about five yards down the field. Nickelback Trey Dean should’ve made the tackle and gotten the ball back to his offense. Instead, he took a poor angle and allowed Cager to turn the corner for a first down. Georgia eventually scored a field goal to grab the early lead.

An illegal substitution penalty and a sack derailed Florida’s second possession. Marco Wilson’s missed tackle at the goal line allowed the Bulldogs to score a touchdown on the ensuing possession.

Just like that, the Gators found themselves down 10-0 with an extremely unbalanced offense and a defense that had been on the field for most of the game. That’s not exactly a recipe for success.

“I think this an elite football team,” Trask said. “I think it’s just lack of execution; it wasn’t anything talent wise. We are an elite team. We just execute at a higher level early in games and finish drives, and I think we can play with anybody in the country.”

While Florida settled down and started to execute cleaner in the second half, the sloppiness returned at the worst possible times.

Trailing 16-3 on their opening possession of the second half, they marched to Georgia’s 38-yard line. On first down, Trask dropped back and saw nobody open. Rather than throwing the ball away or taking a sack for a small loss, he spun and ran backward to try to avoid the sack. Jordan Davis and Malik Herring threw him to the ground for a 19-yard loss. Opportunity wasted.

The Gators pulled to within seven early in the fourth quarter on a leaping grab at the goal line by Van Jefferson. Suddenly, UF’s crowd was back in the game and the players seemed to have some more pep in their step.

It didn’t last long.

On the next series, linebacker Ventrell Miller and safety Shawn Davis miscommunicated and left Cager wide open down the left sideline. Fromm lofted him the ball for quite possibly the easiest 52-yard touchdown he’ll ever throw in his life. That was the nail in the Gators’ coffin.

“Both their touchdowns were busted coverages,” Mullen said. “That's just mental. That's mental. I mean being disciplined, being exact, being where we're supposed to be."

Mullen’s emotions seemed to boil over when he had to call his first timeout early in the fourth quarter because the receivers couldn’t line up properly. He engaged in an extremely heated and one-sided conversation with receivers coach Billy Gonzales.

“I'm frustrated because, like I said, there's all little things you can point out,” he said. “That's a very manageable situation, right? I mean, that's a signaling in the formation thing, get them lined up right."

Mullen and his players said they still have a lot to play for over their final three games. While an SEC East title is likely out of reach, they can still make a New Year’s Six Bowl and finish in the top-10.

“At this point, we’ll see our character,” Mullen said. “Our character wasn’t really showing out there on the field. That doesn’t define what the character is. We’re going to come to play. We’re going to play hard for 60 minutes. We did that. We did some really good things. We made some mistakes. We all can work to get better. Your character is defined on what you’re doing in response to it.”

After last season’s loss to Georgia, Florida played lethargic the following week and got blown out at home by Missouri.

They won’t have to worry about letting Georgia beat them twice against Vanderbilt next Saturday. This year, the challenge is to avoid beating themselves in consecutive weeks.

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