JACKSONVILLE, Fla – In a showdown of the SEC East’s top two teams, Florida couldn’t overcome six turnovers and Georgia’s defensive pressure, as the Gators fell from the ranks of the unbeaten dropping a 17-9 decision at EverBank Field Saturday.
With the win, Georgia now controls its destiny in the SEC East with a home game with Ole Miss and a road trip to Auburn remaining. Florida wraps up SEC play with Missouri in the Swamp next week.
Aaron Murray hit Malcolm Mitchell with a 45-yard touchdown with 7:11 to go to extend Georgia’s one-point lead to 17-9. The Gators (7-1, 6-1) drove all the way to the Georgia (7-1, 5-1) 18-yard line where Jeff Driskel hit Jordan Reed with a pass over the middle but Jarvis Jones pried the ball from Reed and the Bulldogs recovered in the end zone with 2:05 remaining and run out the clock.
Todd Gurley scored an early 10-yard touchdown run for Georgia to go along with a 29-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan and Caleb Sturgis while three field goals for Florida.
But the game was decided by the Gators’ inability to do the one thing they’ve done so well all year – protect the ball, as they turned it over six times, three in each half, after having only four turnovers in seven games entering the contest.
A week ago it was the Gators making the first impact play, forcing a turnover on the first play of the game. Saturday it was Georgia that made the first major play of the game.
After the Gators received the opening kick off, Jeff Driskel was sacked by Damian Swann on the game’s third play and the Jarvis Jones pounced on the ball setting up Georgia at the Florida 20 yard line. Three plays later Gurley scampered in from 10 yards out to give Georgia a 7-0 lead with 12:02 left in the first quarter.
A celebration penalty on Gurley on the touchdown gave the Gators a better opportunity for a return and Andre Debose took the ensuing kick to Florida 43 yard line. The Gators marched all the way to the Georgia 36-yard line where facing a fourth-and-1, head coach Will Muschamp opted to go for the first down rather than a long Sturgis field goal due to the windy conditions. The Gators tried a jet sweep with Solomon Patton around the left side of the line, but Patton was ripped down right at the marker, was stopped short, and injured on the play.
Then began a series of turnovers with both teams struggling to find an offensive rhythm.
Georgia quarterback Murray’s pass over the middle was tipped and wound up in Neiron Ball’s hands. Driskel was then sacked by Jones and fumbled for the third time on the day, the second resulting in a turnover. As Georgia looked like it was poised to add to its lead, marching the Florida 8-yard line and facing a third down, Murray was once again picked up, this time by Josh Evans and once again the result of a deflected pass.
Following the Evans interception, however, the Gators were finally to sustain a drive and marched 70 yards on 15 plays to finally get on the board with a 38-yard field goal from Sturgis with 7:03 left in the first half. The Gators converted 3-of-4 third downs on the drive, including a 14-yard pass from Driskel to Trey Burton and a 12-yard pass to Quinton Dunbar to extend the drive.
Facing a third-and-15 at the Georgia 21, however, Driskel’s arm was hit as he threw and the drive stalled and the Gators settled for the Sturgis field goal.
On the following drive the Gators picked off Murray for the third time on the afternoon, this time by Matt Elam who took advantage of an overthrow. Elam returned the pick to the Georgia 11-yard line. Unable to punch the ball in, the Gators got a 22-yard field goal from Sturgis with 2:43 left in the half to cut the lead to 7-6.
The Gators were poised to take the lead late in the half, mounting a 55-yard drive in the closing minute that gave UF a first-and-goal at the Georgia 5-yard line. Driskel, however, was intercepted in the end zone of the half’s final play negating a chance for the Gators to go to the locker room with a lead. Driskel rolled out to the right and looked as if he would throw the ball away but took a shot into the end zone and Bacarri Rambo intercepted the pass ending the threat.
Early in the second half Driskel was intercepted for a second time as he was hit as he threw and Swann intercepted the pass at the 40 and returned it to the Florida 25. After getting as close as the 12-yard line, Florida’s defense buckled down and forced a 29-yard field goal from Marshall Morgan to make it 10-6 early in the third quarter.
On the following drive, looking for an offensive spark, Trey Burton lined up under center in the Wildcat formation but lost control of the ball, fumbled and Georgia recovered at the Florida 26. The Gator defense stood strong once again, forcing a 37-yard field goal attempt from Morgan that sailed wide left and the game remain 10-6.
In the fourth quarter Florida’s defense forced a punt from deep in Georgia territory setting the Gators up at the Bulldogs’ 43 yard line. On the first play Driskel darted for 20 yards down to the 23 yard line. A substitution violation and a sack, however, backed the Gators up setting up a 50-yard field goal attempt that Sturgis nailed with 9:41 to go to make it a 10-9 game.
The Gators appeared to seize momentum in the game and were poised to get the ball back after a defensive stop on the ensuing drive. A defensive holding penalty on Dominique Easley extended the drive, however, and Murray got hot, ultimately connecting with Mitchell on the 45-yard strike with 7:11 to go to put the Bulldogs up 17-9.
Then came the Gators’ final drive. Driskel hit Reed with a 15-yard gain to the Georgia 48-yard line. Facing a second-and-six at the Georgia 18-yard line the tandem connected again, but Reed was stripped on the ball, the Bulldogs recovered and closed out the game.
Georgia finished with 273 yards of offense, 150 passing and 123 rushing. More telling, after turning the ball over three times in the first half, they had none in the second half. Gurley pounded his way to 118 yards on 27 carries. Murray was 12-of-24 passing for 150 yards and a touchdown to go along with three first half interceptions.
Florida finished with 266 yards of offense, 185 passing and 81 rushing. Driskel was 14-of-26 for 185 yards and two interceptions. Gillislee finished with 77 yards on 22 carries.
The Gators return home next week when Missouri makes its first appearance to the Swamp as a member of the SEC in the final SEC game of the year for Florida.