Florida, much like a lot of fans, promised it would behave better this year at The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. It wouldn’t let things get out of hand in Jacksonville, again — as they so often do, both on and off the field.
The Gators were different this year, or so everyone thought.
“It took us three quarters to find out what worked best and we started executing at a high level,” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “We just need to find a way to do that sooner, I guess.”
By that point, UF had dug itself into a two-touchdown hole. This was due to its atrocious third-down defense, which allowed 12 third-down conversions in the game, and a no-show by the running game, which rushed for 21 yards on the day.
The Gators didn’t roll over, though. Trask led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, narrowing the gap to a more respectable 24-17 loss at the hands of the Bulldogs for the third-straight year.
Dan Mullen was asked after the game how close his team is to its SEC East rival.
“Seven points,” he said, tersely.
He was then asked if this game is a measuring stick for where the program is at. In response, Mullen pointed at the box score on the lectern in front of him and once again offered, “We’re seven points behind Georgia.”
But the sheet of paper in front of him told a different story.
The Gators were out-gained by more than 100 yards, sniffed the red zone just once and lost the time-of-possession battle by more than 11 minutes.
Seven points. But don’t forget the asterisk.
The final score was misleading. UF managed three points heading into the final quarter and never had a clear path to victory.
Poor execution and game management in the biggest game of the season largely sunk Florida’s hopes of claiming its first division title in three years.
Despite its grim chances of playing in the conference championship game (Georgia would have to lose two of its four remaining games, and Florida would have to win out), Mullen and the players said there’s still a lot to play for.
“A lot of football still left,” Mullen said. “We have three more games to go play and a bye week. We’ve qualified for a bowl game, so we’ll get that extra (game).”
The Gators are expected to win out the rest of the regular season, according to ESPN’s FPI.
Their remaining schedule is a home game against Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4 SEC), at Missouri (5-3, 2-2 SEC) and home against rival FSU (4-5), which just fired coach Willie Taggart on Sunday.
“It’s a great check of where our character’s going to be over these next three games and what type of team (we are), how we’re going to finish this up,” Mullen said.
Finishing the regular season 10-2 is well within grasp, which would be an improvement on Mullen’s 9-3 mark in his first year at the helm. And despite having two losses, Florida is still No. 10 in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. Its standing is a testament to the quality of its two losses to No. 1 LSU and No. 6 Georgia and the rest of its body of work.
“We’re still a good team,” receiver Freddie Swain said. “I’m not letting this loss define us. We’re still a good team and can still be elite, just got to focus on the little things as a team and once we do, we’ll be alright.”
Follow Kyle Wood on Twitter @Kkylewood. Contact him at [email protected]