It was a bitter defeat for the Gators in Jacksonville, as critical mistakes and injuries at key positions were too much to overcome in a 36-17 loss. The game plan on both offense and defense was sound and the effort was there, but this team is not talented enough to defeat quality teams when not playing error-free football.
Dan Mullen called one of the best offensive games I can recall. The running game was solid, the run/pass mix was effective, and a handful of special plays were there for the taking. Unfortunately, Franks didn’t execute those plays in key moments – he just executed Florida’s chance to win. After allowing Georgia a FG on the first series of the game, the very first Florida offensive play was a harbinger of things to come. He badly overthrew a wide-open Jefferson for a TD on a flea-flicker, which would have sent a shock through the Georgia defense that this would be a vastly different game than last season. The second possession started nicely, but an uncharacteristic Scarlett fumble gave the Puppies a short field. They took advantage of that and the early exit of CJH due to a back injury to pick on McWilliams for key completions and a TD pass for a 10-0 lead. Even after digging an early hole, the Gators didn’t panic. They finally scored in the 2nd quarter with an excellent drive mostly led by Perine and the running game. Unfortunately, right before the half ended the Puppies took advantage or poor pass coverage by the Gator LBs (especially Joseph) with 4 consecutive completions to TE Isaac Nauta to get a FG for a 13-7 halftime lead.
The second half started out perfectly. After Toney returned the kickoff to the Georgia 48-yard line, it took the Gators only 3 plays to take the lead on Franks’ best pass of the day, a laser to Swain down the middle. Sadly, the defense had a major letdown, allowing Georgia to march right down the field mostly through the air for a TD to retake the lead, as McWilliams was toasted – again. Then came the 2nd critical mistake by Franks. After a Georgia punt was downed at the Gator 1-yard line, he fumbled on the next play. What could have easily then been a TD and perhaps the dagger was replaced by “The Stand” – 7 plays inside the 2-yard line that were stuffed by the Gator defense – holding Georgia to only a FG. It’s unfortunate that the offense could not fully build on that inspirational effort, only getting a FG early in the 4th quarter to cut the lead to 23-17, but never really threatening again. The defense finally cracked, not being able to get off the field on 3rd down and not getting the key play in pass defense to force the Puppies to punt. Two late TDs made the final score 36-17, which didn’t reflect the closeness of the game until the last 8 minutes. Watching 3 out of 4 starters in the secondary sit on the sideline due to injury or suspension while Georgia was actually moving the ball through the air was sickening.
It’s back to the Swamp for the first time since the LSU game 4 weeks ago, this time to face Missouri. It’s the start of a crucial 3 game home stand that will determine how good the 2018 season can be and the quality of bowl game the Gators are invited to. There are a lot of positives to take from the Georgia game, but also a lot to clean up.
Missouri reminds me of a bad matchup in the NCAA basketball tournament. The strength of their offense is based on QB Drew Lock, WRs Emanuel Hall and Jalen Knox, and a quality TE in Albert Okwuegbuna. This group will cause headaches for the Gator LB corps and secondary – especially if CJH is not 100% and if Stewart is rusty after his suspension for the Georgia game. The D-Line has to rediscover it’s pass rush and make life miserable for Lock, or else this could turn into a high-scoring affair that Franks and the Gator offense are not built for. The Tigers also have two good RBs in Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett, who really hurt the Gators last year in Columbia. The entire defense has to play a solid and smart game against a very good offense. It all starts with winning first down to make the Tigers one-dimensional. After that, if the defense continues it’s struggles getting off the field on 3rd down, it will be a long day and a probable loss. Kentucky did a very good job holding Missouri to only 14 points last week, and the Gators should be able to see a lot of things on film they can apply this week.
Florida has to continue to find success in the running game, which will lessen the number of possessions by the Tigers and also allow the defense some rest. The Gator O-Line has to first stop DT Terry Beckner – he is a load and an all-SEC candidate. Perine and Scarlett are in a groove right now running the ball, but I continue to hope they are used more in the passing game. Mullen has gone away from that the past month for some reason, but I hope he reintroduces it into the game plan. Both Franks and all of the WRs need to improve – Franks his accuracy, and the WRs getting consistent separation from DBs and fighting harder through contact to go after the ball. All of Gator Nation continues to impatiently wait for Toney to get more touches, even if it’s only on jet sweeps.
The Gator special teams have been excellent, and again can have a big impact on the outcome. Townsend has to continue to flip the field with his punts, while McPherson has been nails with his FGs. Toney had a big kickoff return against Georgia, and hopefully builds on that to perhaps set up an easy score.
Coach Mullen and the entire staff have to find a way to build on the positives from the Georgia game and get the players to continue to compete on every snap. Despite the tough loss, Florida can prove it has emotionally matured by moving on to the next game and taking care of it’s business. I have a nagging feeling this game will not go smoothly and will be in doubt late. If the Gators can simply eliminate unforced turnovers they have a good chance of winning. There is still a lot to play for, starting with protecting the Swamp. Finally, the next few games will go a long way for the perception of the program in the minds of recruits. The Gators are gaining the attention of a lot of big names, and if they can finish the season well, should be able to bring in a class that is more representative of the Florida program standard of the past 30 years. It’s time to have the talent and depth to compete for championships again.
Prediction: Florida 27 Missouri 24