Down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Mullen-era narrative of a Gators loss in Jacksonville thrived.
Georgia running back Zamir White scored on a 75-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. The Bulldogs followed that by forcing a three-and-out on defense and then scoring on a 32-yard passing touchdown.
After three years of suffering defeats at the hands of their rival and main competition for the SEC East crown, it was a familiar script for Florida.
However, the No. 8 Gators put that narrative to bed immediately and emphatically. Florida overcame the deficit and smacked the No. 5 Bulldogs 44-28. Florida now leaves Duval County with the monkey off its back and the inside track to Atlanta ahead of its matchup against Arkansas next week.
UF racked up 572 yards of offense against Georgia’s vaunted defense, and quarterback Kyle Trask ended the night completing 30 out of 43 passes for 474 yards (the most in a regular-season game in school history), four touchdowns and an interception.
The Gators’ offense went right to work after trailing 14-0. Running back Dameon Pierce picked up 16 yards on back-to-back carries before Trask hit tight end Keon Zipperer down the sideline for a 39-yard gain. Two plays later, wide receiver Justin Shorter hauled in a pass on a crossing route and scored to cut the deficit in half.
“I think once we went down, got that first offensive touchdown, I think the attitude on our sideline changed,” Mullen said. “Everyone kind of remembered, ‘Hey, you know what, we can play pretty good defense and get 11 guys running to the ball as hard as we can and we can score points.”
After Florida (4-1) forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Georgia (4-2) drive, the Gators embarked on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off with a Pierce rushing touchdown to tie the game at 14.
The last hurdle Florida faced in the first half was self-inflicted. Running hurry-up to catch the Bulldogs off-guard, a Trask pass found the hands of Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes, who ran it back for six. Trask’s second pick-six in as many weeks put the Gators down 21-14.
Florida then tallied 24 unanswered points in the second quarter, scoring on every drive until halftime. The Gators ended the half outgaining Georgia 411 yards to 166.
“This year, we have such an explosive offense, such a great team, top-down,” Trask said. “We just had a lot of confidence, a lot of energy. We went down 14-0 early, and this team had no panic.”
The disparity between the two teams’ quarterbacks was on full display for a national audience. Bennett, who was briefly replaced in the first half by redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis due to injury, struggled immensely. While Trask was dissecting Georgia’s defense, Bennett was busy completing passes to TIAA Bank Field’s turf instead of his receivers.
Georgia turned to Mathis again in the second half, but he didn’t fare much better outside of a passing touchdown on his first drive. The Bulldogs’ quarterbacks combined for nine completions on 29 attempts, 112 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Florida’s offense had a tepid second-half performance, gaining 160 yards and only scoring six points, but it was still enough to secure the win. The absence of tight end Kyle Pitts, who caught his eighth touchdown pass of the season on Saturday, was felt across the board after he was concussed on a hit by Georgia defensive back Lewis Cine.
That doesn’t take away the luster from one of Florida’s biggest wins under Mullen, however.
“I told them before the game I was really excited to watch them play tonight because they’ve worked their tail off to be in this situation — and I enjoyed them play and I enjoyed celebrating,” Mullen said. “It’s a great celebration. I’m going to celebrate tonight, too, and then we’ll come in early tomorrow morning and get on to Arkansas.”
The Gators will be back in The Swamp Nov. 14 to face former Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks and the Razorbacks at 7:00 p.m.
Contact Brendan Farrell at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Bfarrell727.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask hypes up the crowd at TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, Saturday. The Gators defeated the Bulldogs in the most recent rivalry game on Nov. 7.