JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Richard Samuel scored on a four-yard touchdown run with 13:18 left in regulation, as the University of Georgia rallied from two touchdowns down to hand the University of Florida its fourth straight loss, 24-20, at EverBank Field Saturday.
Florida (4-4, 2-4 SEC) had built a 17-3 lead courtesy of a 31-yard touchdown pass from John Brantley to Jordan Reed and a 99-yard kickoff return by Jeff Demps but the Gators couldn’t overcome 14 penalties, six sacks and just 32 yards of offense in the second half.
The early storyline surrounded the return of starting quarterback Brantley. The senior signal-caller came out during early warm-ups, then returned to the Gator locker room leaving questions about his availability. On the Gators first drive, Brantley stepped under center for the first time since suffering an injury to his right ankle in the first half of the Gators’ loss vs. Alabama on Oct. 1.
Brantley was very sharp early, but as the game wore he continued in visible pain, finishing 12-of-34 for 245 yards. He was just 2-of-14 for 19 yards passing in the second half.
On the opening play of the game Brantley threw a swing pass to Jeff Demps who took the pass 72 yards down to the Georgia 21. The Gators could get no closer and Brad Phillips, subbing for an injured Caleb Sturgis, missed a 38-yard field goal attempt.
After a quick stop the Gators got the ball back and put together an 11-play 80-yard drive, taking 4:26 off the clock. Brantley marched the Gators to the Georgia 22-yard line with completions to Chris Rainey (20 yards), Deonte Thompson (13), Trey Burton (14) and Andre Debose (14). After a sack the Gators faced a fourth-and-19 from the Georgia 31-yard line. With Sturgis unavailable, the Gators rolled the dice and Brantley stepped up, avoided the rush, and found Reed on the end for a 31-yard strike.
Georgia (6-2, 5-1) got back into the game early in the second quarter when Blair Walsh knocked home a 32-yard field goal, capping a 12-play, 67-yard drive. Isaiah Crowell accounted for 32 yards on the ground during the drive.
The Bulldogs’ momentum was short-lived, as on the ensuing kickoff Demps fielded the ball at the 1-yard line and proceeded to race 99 yards for the touchdown to increase UF’s lead to 14-3.
Florida added to its lead on its next possession when Phillips split the uprights from 43 yards out. Brantley hit Quinton Dunbar for a 24-yard pick-up to help set up the score.
The Gators appeared poised to go into the locker room with a two touchdown lead, but a fumble by Rainey at the UF 25 set the stage for Aaron Murray to hit Michael Bennett for a 20-yard touchdown. Like the Gators did earlier in the game, Georgia rolled the dice and went for it on fourth and long after Walsh had missed a 33-yard field goal on the Bulldogs’ previous drive. Murray found Bennett at the goal line and the redshirt-freshman split end made an impressive catch to cut the score to 17-10.
Turnovers proved costly for the Gators again in the third quarter as Frankie Hammond put the ball on the ground after a 9-yard reception setting the Bulldogs up at the Florida 18-yard line. Georgia again gambled on fourth down and Murray hit Tavarres King for a 14-yard TD pass to tie the game at 17-17.
The tie didn’t last long as Debose returned the ensuing kick 63 yards to the Georgia 26-yard line. Moments later Phillips gave the Gators the lead back on a 40-yard field goal.
The Gators managed only 15 yards of offense in the third quarter and their defense finally started to show some of the fatigue of being on the field for a large chunk of the second half. Georgia took its first lead of the game with 13:18 remaining on a four-yard run by Samuel, capping a nine-play, 45-yard drive and providing the eventual margin of victory.
For the game, Georgia controlled the ball for 37:40 while Florida had the ball for just 22:20. Georgia ended up with 354 yards of total offense, 185 rushing and 169 passing. Murray finishing the game 15-of-34 passing for 169 yards and two touchdowns while Crowell finished with a game-high 81 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Florida finished with 226 total yards, just 32 after the half. The Gators finished with -19 yards rushing, most of which was the result of sack yardage as the Bulldogs got to Brantley six times on the afternoon.
For the Gators it marks the first four-game losing streak since 1988.
Florida will try and rebound next Saturday when Vanderbilt comes to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for a 12:21 p.m. kick off.