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Loucheiz Purifoy sacks Aaron Murray for a second-half safety. The Gators hope to start faster Saturday against Vandy.

Monday November 4, 2013Gators Want Slow Starts to Disappear Fast

Loucheiz Purifoy sacks Aaron Murray for a second-half safety. The Gators hope to start faster Saturday against Vandy.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If there were a way for the Gators to go back and erase the first 5 minutes, 41 seconds of Saturday's game against Georgia, they would race to the delete button.

That is how little time off the game clock it took for the Gators to fall behind by two touchdowns in a 23-20 loss to the Bulldogs.

The Gators brought the shovel, and then handed it to the Bulldogs to dig the hole.

"The way we started the game was not how we wanted to start,'' senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins said Monday. "It’s definitely something we have to work on for the next four or five games, or however many we’ve got. If we do that, we can win some games around here."

The Bulldogs drove 75 yards on seven plays on their first drive, which started with a 17-yard run by quarterback Aaron Murray and ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley. Those two teamed up on Georgia's second drive for a 73-yard touchdown pass, giving the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead with 9:19 left in the first quarter.

Sandwiched between Georgia's two scoring drives was a promising possession by the Gators. Starting at their own 7-yard line, on the Gators' second play from scrimmage quarterback Tyler Murphy hit Quinton Dunbar for an 83-yard completion to Georgia's 10.

However, the series stalled and resulted in a costly empty drive thanks to a 15-yard penalty and missed field goal.

While the defense was torched for the second consecutive game on the opponents' opening drive -- Missouri scored on two plays in its 36-17 win over Florida on Oct. 19 -- the offense didn't help by coming up empty after a first-and-goal at the 10.

"We’re going to have to pick up the urgency, put pressure on ourselves to make things happen in the first quarter,'' Murphy said. "That way we can avoid getting into holes like we did on Saturday. We’re going to find out what we need to do better in the first quarter. Hopefully we can carry some of momentum that we had last week over and play better."

The Gators have been outscored 27-3 in the first quarter the past two games and 48-16 on the season.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said the problem is a result of multiple factors.

"Those first two drives were just extremely disappointing,'' Muschamp said. "We've just got to go back and put our guys in better situations to play. And that's on us as coaches. We've got to put our guys in better situations to feel more comfortable and react as opposed to think in some situations.

"That's the best way I can summarize it because in every game it's been a little something different, whether it's on the front end getting cut out of a gap or the back end in coverage, not in the right leverage."

The complexion of Saturday's game would have certainly been different if Florida could at least have cashed in on its first drive after Gurley's run gave the Bulldogs the early lead.

But by the time the Gators finally scored on a field goal by Frankie Velez in the second quarter, Georgia had a commanding 20-0 lead, scoring on its first four possessions.

The Gators' defense gave up 259 yards in the first quarter before limiting Georgia to 81 yards over the second and third quarters.

Still, Murphy said you can't blame the early deficit all on the defense.

"When the defense starts slow, it doesn't help for the offense to start slow as well, so we've tried to find ways to pick them up," Murphy said. "We got things going a little too late."

Murray sacked

The defense turned around in the second half, shifting momentum in the Gators' favor on Leon Orr's recovery of a fumbled lateral and Loucheiz Purifoy's safety.

Florida trimmed the lead to 23-20 on touchdown runs by Mack Brown and Murphy and had possession inside Georgia territory midway through the fourth quarter. However, the drive went in reverse and ended in a punt.

Georgia ran off the final 8:17 as Murray engineered a 15-play, 67-yard drive to end the game.

Murphy watched in frustration, knowing the slow start cost the Gators in a big way.

"It was definitely tough, coming off a score and having them stop us like that,'' Murphy said. "You're kind of sitting on the sideline and you're trying to keep guys focused and ready to put another drive together. Georgia did a good job of just keeping us off the field and getting first downs. It was a heartbreaker to lose that way, but guys are just preparing for the next drive.

"Unfortunately, we didn't get one."

The Gators returned to practice Monday night in preparation for Saturday's Homecoming game against Vanderbilt.

You can be sure a more urgent start on Saturday against the Commodores will be stressed this week as Florida tries to snap a three-game losing streak.

"It's certainly impacted the games as far as how we have relied on our defense in some obvious situations,'' Muschamp said of his team's slow starts. "You don't put your finger on one thing and say 'it's this.' Defensively, just way too inconsistent.

"When you look back, starting fast comes back to putting our players in better situations to be successful as far as our looks are concerned and the things we are carrying into the game."

 

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