JACKSONVILLE — Redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson led the Florida offense onto the field for the first time Saturday, but his debut will be marred by the three turnovers he committed in the last 142 seconds before halftime.
The Gators failed to overcome his fumble and two interceptions in the second half to fall to No. 1 Georgia 34-7 on Saturday in Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field.
After the teams traded missed field goals in the first quarter, the Bulldogs struck first.
They drove down the field to Florida’s 7-yard line before the offense stalled. Georgia settled for a 21-yard field goal attempt to make it 3-0.
Both teams then shot themselves in the foot. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV went deep to tight end John FitzPatrick a couple of yards short of the end zone, but his pass found the arms of Gators’ safety Rashad Torrence II. Torrence hauled in a second interception in the final quarter.
Florida reclaimed possession at its own 2-yard line, and Mullen ordered back-to-back quarterback draws to give his offense some breathing room. On the second attempt, Richardson churned out 8 yards, but Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith ripped the ball from his hands.
Running back James Cook marched into the end zone from 11 yards out one play later to go up 10-0 a play later.
Richardson turned the ball over again on the next drive. Georgia defensive end Travon Walker tipped his pass and the football found Smith’s hands again for the interception.
A play later, Bennett found wide receiver Kearis Jackson streaking toward the left corner of the end zone. He hauled in the over-the-shoulder catch to make it 17-0 before the half.
Instead of kneeling and heading into halftime, Mullen chased points. However, Richardson found a player wearing the wrong-colored jersey once more, his third turnover of the game. The Bulldogs’ linebacker Nakobe Dean jumped a route and returned the ball 50 yards for a pick-six to increase Georgia’s lead to 24-0.
“He (Richardson) did some things really well and made a couple of errors as well,” Mullen said about his performance. “That’s stuff we’ll coach them up on.”
Outside of Florida’s implosion during the last 2:16 seconds of the first half, the Bulldogs only outscored the Gators 13-7.
Late in the second half, the prominent question became whether or not Florida would be shut out after a pair of missed field goals. The Gators scored in 417 straight games, dating back to 1988: A streak that somehow managed to survive the Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain eras.
Florida looked poised to score again, reaching the red zone with three minutes left to save the streak. Backup quarterback Emory Jones, who replaced Richardson after he was shaken up following a tackle in the third quarter, threw to the end zone toward tight end Kemore Gamble, but Georgia committed pass interference to give the Gators first and goal from the 2.
Jones caught the snap, looked right and plunged straight ahead into the end zone to extend the streak to 418 games and make it 27-7.
Georgia running back Zamir White responded with his first touchdown of the day, running freely for 42 yards to make it 34-7 in the closing minutes.
With Florida’s latest loss, the Gators fall to 2-7 in their last nine games versus Power 5 opponents and they can’t attain an SEC record above 4-4. The Gators outgained Georgia in total yards (355-354), earned more first downs (20-18), ran 22 more plays and won the time of possession battle (32:20-27:40).
“We’re not where we want to be,” Mullen said about being 4-4 currently. “I’m not where we want to be at this point in the season.”
The coach urged fans to not abandon the team and their hopes over the final four games.
“It may feel like the rope is slipping...but I won’t let go and I know the guys on this team won’t let it go, either,” coach Dan Mullen said about his message to Gators fans.
Florida travels to Columbia, South Carolina, to take on the Gamecocks at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday and can be seen on SEC Network.
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.