We’ve seen it all year from No. 7 Georgia (7-1, 5-1). When they force quick turnovers and capitalize with points early in the game, there is little hope for opposing teams to pull out a victory.
The same story can be told about Saturday night inside TIAA Bank Field, when the No. 9 Florida Gators (6-2, 4-2) shot themselves in the foot early on in their opening possession of the game. Already trailing 3-0, Florida began their opening drive from the 25.
Facing an early, but important, third down and two, Feleipe Franks handed the ball off to running back Jordan Scarlett. The junior tailback found a hole on the left side of the line and burst into the second level. Unfortunately, as Scarlett was wrestled to the ground, he fumbled, resulting in a Georgia 32-yard return, and setting the ‘Dawgs up for their first touchdown of the game, extending their lead to 10.
Scarlett commented on the mishap after the game, “Yeah, I think somebody ended up getting a hand on it. You know, those guys are on scholarships too. That’s just how football is sometimes. You make mistakes."
And the mistakes piled up for this Florida offense. Florida only gave away the football six times during the first six games, but over the last two weeks, the Gators offensive unit has turned the ball over six times (four interceptions and two fumbles). Franks was responsible for two of the giveaways today, throwing an errant pass directly to a Georgia defensive back as the Gators were driving down the field, and fumbling the football on the Gators’ own one-yard line. Against a top team like Georgia, those mistakes buried the Gators from ever really taking over this game.
Georgia punter, Jake Camarda, set up the ‘Dawgs beautifully for their third takeaway of the game. After Georgia Head Coach, Kirby Smart, debated whether to punt or attempt a 52-yard field goal, Smart sent the punting unit on the field. Camarda had a great arcing punt that hit inside the five and was downed at the Gators one-yard line. Franks fumbled on the ensuing play, digging Florida in a deeper hole, and ultimately closing the door for a comeback.
After the game, Dan Mullen talked about the miscues from his team, “You get into some big game situations right there and you got to go execute. If you look at what we did in the game — to turn the ball over, minus-3 turnover ratio, you're not going to win many games doing that.”
“Two of them inside I think our own 10-yard line. You can't do that offensively. It just takes possessions from you and flips the field position all night long, giving them then those opportunities.”
The Gators defense fought off an early drive by Georgia and presumed to lock in until the fourth quarter. Too much was asked from this defense with the offense pinning them deep in their own territory on several occasions. However, after the Franks fumble inside the one, the defense pinned their ears back and halted the ‘Dawgs from crossing the goal line. Florida prevailed and only allowed three on that possession, seemingly keeping the door open for the Gators.
Gators senior defensive lineman, CeCe Jefferson, spoke on the defense’s relentless effort on the goal line stand, “That just speaks volumes about my defense, and the will and motor they have to not drop the rope and just draw a line like Coach Mullen always preaches. Just go hard every play and take advantage of every opportunity, and I was extremely proud of those guys.”
Unfortunately, despite only allowing 10 points on three turnovers, the defense wasn’t the problem in this game. The miscues and ineffectiveness from the offense this game halted the Gators from leaving Jacksonville atop of the SEC standings. Now, they will turn their focus towards the Missouri Tigers.