JACKSONVILLE — The grills were hot, and the music was loud. The hype was real, and the excitement was high.
The stage was set for the 97th meeting of the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs. The fans were ready. The Gators were not.
Florida dropped its second game of the year, and possibly its hopes at the SEC championship, in Jacksonville on Saturday to the Bulldogs, 24-17, as a consequence of inconsistent offensive play and unreliable third-down defense.
Florida was sloppy to begin the game. As a whole, UF looked unprepared early on. Multiple pre-snap miscommunications forced coach Dan Mullen to use two timeouts in the first drive of the game.
“The only people we can be disappointed with is ourselves,” quarterback Kyle Trask said after the game. “They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect them to do. We prepared for everything, and it was more disappointing because we weren’t executing our things we should have done right.”
The offensive struggles continued for much of the first half. UF, which came into the game averaging 142.4 yards a game rushing, totaled just eight rushing yards going into the intermission. The Florida offensive line was bullied at the line of scrimmage and too often allowed penetration into the backfield.
Defensively, the plan for Florida was evident from Georgia’s first drive: stop the run and force quarterback Jake Fromm to win the game through the air.
Running back D’Andre Swift, who came into the matchup averaging 107.4 yards a game, was held to -1 yard in the first quarter. The stout run defense forced Georgia into long third downs, but the aggressiveness up front gave Fromm open looks downfield.
Fromm completed three third-down passes on the opening drive, leading to a field goal and the game’s first score.
Third downs continued to be a problem for UF as the Bulldogs finished the first half converting eight of their 11 attempts.
“(Third downs) was a telling story,” linebacker David Reese II said. “I feel like we did a good job of stopping the run but we didn't get off the field."
UF’s inability to get off the field resulted in long UGA drives, including a 10-play, 59-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to receiver Dominick Blaylock to stretch the lead to 10-0.
The defense struggled to pressure Fromm for much of the day against an elite UGA offensive line that allowed four sacks through seven games prior to Saturday’s contest. The UF defense was held without a sack for the second time in three games after compiling 26 in its first six.
Though the defense did continue to struggle, it refused to relinquish in the red zone. Georgia was forced to settle for field goals on two promising drives in the second and third quarters. The Florida offense, though, was unable to put meaningful drives together and managed just one field goal through two and a half quarters.
“(The defense) did make some stops, and then we didn't capitalize on all of our opportunities on offense,” center Nick Buchanan said. “We’ve got to pick each other up and keep going and move on to the next one.”
The Florida offense eventually started moving the ball after initial struggles.
Trask completed seven passes in his first touchdown drive of the game at the end of the third quarter, ending in a 23-yard touchdown to receiver Van Jefferson to lessen the gap, 16-10. But the touchdown was promptly answered by Georgia with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive ending in a Fromm touchdown to receiver Lawrence Cager, who finished the game with a career-high seven receptions and 132 yards.
The Gators did respond with a score of their own — a two-yard receiving touchdown to cap a 17-play drive to make it a seven-point game — but ran out of time before getting a chance to tie it up.
“I know we're an elite team,” Trask said. “We can hang with anybody in the country and we can compete with anybody in the country. It's just little things, executing at times when it matters most and some points we struggled with that. Clean that up and I'll take us versus anybody in the country.”
Trask finished the game with 21 completions for 257 yards and two touchdowns but was outdone by the winning quarterback. Fromm took advantage of the time given by his blocking and finished the bout with 20 completions for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
With the loss, Florida drops three in a row to Georgia for the first time since 1989. Georgia also leaps to first in the SEC East with three games remaining in the regular season. The Gators no longer control their own destiny and will need help if they hope to be in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
An inconsistent offense and unreliable third-down defense resulted in Florida losing its third-straight game to Georgia.