The sunset, and the SEC East, turned a deep red on Saturday in Jacksonville.
Florida fell to Georgia, 17-9, on Saturday. You can relive the game through our Game Thread, if you're a masochist. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, our first look before a second viewing, comes first.
I sat high in the south end zone of EverBank Field for yesterday's Florida-Georgia game, my first, and up there, the weather felt especially blustery. The skies were overcast from dawn until dusk, with winds whipping and swirling both up in the nosebleeds and on the field.
But the clouds burned off right around dusk, just about when the fourth quarter began, and the winds calmed in agreement. The sunset sky was stunning, streaked with orange and pink, and seeing it just after singing "We Are the Boys" with 42,000 Gators fans who desperately the fourth quarter's prevailing winds to be our kind of weather felt like a sign, and it coincided with Florida's best stretch of play.
Florida's best stretch of play, on this day, wasn't enough. The sunset eventually turned a deep red. And I hated that about as much as I now hate Georgia.
How Florida Lost
Jordan Reed's final fumble. Reed tried leaping two defenders for a spectacular touchdown late in the fourth quarter, only to have Jarvis Jones punch out the football that he wasn't holding high and tight; Georgia would recover the fumble in the end zone for a touchback. The Gators somehow weren't dead until that point, which is remarkable, but seeing that play from on high, with Reed coming toward the south end zone, was cruel: He turned upfield to daylight, and rose as if possessed, but I could barely see the ball squirt out, and couldn't see the recovery.
Florida's defense. Florida gave up a touchdown on the first Georgia drive of the game, one that began on the Florida 20 after a turnover. The Gators would give up just 10 more points, on a 13-yard field goal drive in the third quarter and a back-breaking 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter, allowing no points on two other Georgia drives that began in Florida's red zone thanks to turnovers, and held the Bulldogs to 4.7 yards per play, a number that got significantly inflated by a game-ending 23-yard run by Todd Gurley on the final drive of the game.
This was a game reminiscent of 2011, in which Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn's charges were given coal and tasked with making diamonds, and with the playmaking of the Florida defense of 2012, it almost happened. But almost doesn't count for anything more than being impressive.
Jarvis Jones. I recognize you probably don't want to read more words about Jarvis Jones here or elsewhere, but he was as good yesterday as a defensive player has ever been against the Gators. His line is unbelievable (13 tackles, 12 solo tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries), and of course he was the guy who chased down Reed on the final play of the game.
Jones, a USC transfer, wasn't eligible to play in the 2010 Florida-Georgia game, but recorded five tackles and four sacks in 2011's iteration, and so his average line in this game is 7.5 tackles, 3.75 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. He was Hurricane Jarvis yesterday, an unanswerable force, and has earned a place in Gators lore reserved for villains like Lindsay Scott and Herschel Walker in this rivalry. May he be smart enough to bolt for the riches of the NFL this spring.
Caleb Sturgis. I don't worry about Caleb Sturgis field goals, not really. The one he faded an inch inside the right post was fun, and the one he made from long distance was just the typical Sturgis kick. Sturgis also did an excellent job of limiting Georgia in the return game. If he's not up for national awards at the end of the season, it will be a shame.
Josh Evans. Matt Elam had a very quiet day on Saturday, getting Florida's first tackle, combining with Dante Fowler for another in the first quarter, making a pick in the second quarter, and then essentially disappearing save a couple of pass breakups until an uncalled facemask penalty on Malcolm Mitchell on Georgia's final touchdown, but his mate in the defensive backfield did not. Evans had one of his best games as a Gator, flashing much-improved tackling skills that kept a couple of runs from being back-breakers, and snared an interception off a deflection that could have gotten the Gators going. It's a shame it got wasted.
Mike Gillislee. There are players who would be frustrated to the point of being unplayable by being shut down in the running game like Gilly was for most of Saturday; he's basically their polar opposite. Gilly ran hard for all four quarters into nonexistent holes, and showed very good hands in the passing game; when he broke a couple of decent runs, it felt like he had earned them, and when he planted and cut on one field, it felt like a great player doing something that even very good ones couldn't. (And the fumble on the first play was not really Gilly's fault.)
The hype for Gillislee's possibly record-breaking season is gone, and should be, because he won't be allowed to make up for an October spent earning tough yards by compiling hundreds in November. But I'm happy as hell that he's been our running back this year.
Brent Pease doesn't give up. Florida's offensive line had its worst day of the year on Saturday, by far, and gave Jeff Driskel and Gillislee scant few excellent plays of blocking. Driskel's poor decision-making led to four turnovers; Florida's wide receivers were doing their usual impression of ghosts. Pease still whipped up drives out of thin air, and Florida should have probably scored 17 to 20 points despite the offense sputtering all day. Pease could have been more aggressive in spots, I think, and could have abandoned the handoff running game earlier, but his play-calling was not the problem except in a few instances, and he definitely had the desperation drive well-called.
Then again: Pease and the Florida offense decided to go for it with a gadget play from the Georgia 36 with the wind at Caleb Sturgis' back in the first quarter, and didn't get it. Those three points could have been useful.
The secondary. Florida gave up one pass play of over 20 yards, and it was premised on a missed tackle by Loucheiz Purifoy, who led the Gators in tackling on the day. Elam and Evans each had a pick, and Aaron Murray completed just 12 of 24 passes. This loss isn't on these guys.
Quinton Dunbar. Dunbar appears to be the only true wide receiver worth a damn on Florida's roster. He high-pointed the ball for a couple of great catches on Saturday, and finished with three catches for 40 yards.
Kyle Christy. Christy punted three times for 140 yards, a 46.7 yards-per-punt average. He was averaging 47.9 yards per punt coming in. He's still good, and should probably have given a few more chances to punt, but that I'm putting a punter in Encouraging says plenty.
Both Good and Bad
Jordan Reed. Reed is Florida's best offensive weapon in the passing game, and he led Florida with five catches for 71 yards. He's a great athlete for the position, and an able blocker, and he should be very good for Florida for the rest of his career. But he's going to have to atone for trying to make an unforgettable play for the Gators and taking a risk that ended up giving Georgia an unforgettable play of its own.
Reed was shown crying on the sidelines after the play, which is rough: He came to Florida as a quarterback under Urban Meyer, and was good in a Tebow-ish role in 2010, but was transformed into a tight end for good under Muschamp, and has taken to the position with the dedication necessary to be excellent; he's not a show-off, despite the jumping addiction I've long lamented, just a player trying to maximize the gains gotten from his athleticism. His tears are a reminder that losses like this shatter players and fans alike, and should help keep in perspective the good he will do and the mistakes he has made from now until the end of his Florida career.
Trey Burton. Burton was decent as a receiver, making two good catches on short routes, one for a first down, but he was abysmal in the wildcat, and his idea to go through a zone read as usual despite a high snap that made it impossible was awful and ill-timed. There's no point in his career when I'll be fully comfortable with Burton handling snaps, I'm sure, and that's as much my fault as his, but he is Florida's high-risk, high-reward player this season: Either he wins the game with his play or he helps lose it with his play. Significance should not be confused for importance.
Big plays. Florida barely even tried to go deep, throwing intermediate passes and screens almost exclusively and mostly eschewing the long-developing plays that Georgia's front seven would have wrecked almost entirely. Driskel overthrew the deep ball to Frankie Hammond in the second quarter that amounted to the Gators' only deep shot, and misthrew it, too: It was a rocket that Hammond had no chance of running under.
Pease did call a great sideline route by Reed and a couple of very good screens to Gillislee, but those didn't take the top off the defense, do anything to force safeties to play deep, or scare the front seven into staying back. Todd Grantham, Georgia's defensive coordinator, called a very good game to maximize Jarvis Jones and minimize what Driskel could do, but Florida's inability to throw deep went from liability to cause of death on Saturday.
Line play. Florida's offensive line was never as good as we really wanted it to be, just good enough to play really well against teams that are average or worse and stalemate great defenses for critical plays. On Saturday, it didn't make enough stalemates happen to avoid a loss, was whipped repeatedly in run blocking, and forced Driskel to make more and faster decisions than he's capable of making calamity-free at this point in his career.
But the defensive line was also disappointing on the day: Sharrif Floyd had two tackles for loss, and Jonathan Bullard had one, and that was the extent of the Gators' ability to win downs on defense up front. Murray had time all day, and made bad decisions on his picks; he was never in danger of getting sacked. (And, to make matters worse: Jones' sensational day made me wish really badly for Ronald Powell, one week after crowing that Florida didn't miss him.)
Jeff Driskel. We know what Jeff Driskel is better than we ever have right now: A quarterback who is gifted with every physical tool necessary to be a great Florida signal-caller, but one who is not quite adept enough at making decisions to be consistently great just yet. Driskel's turnovers were his own, and the fumble and interception in the second quarter were truly awful: Driskel fumbled because he was trying to do too much, and threw the worst pick by a Florida QB since Trey Burton's jump pass pick (okay, "Florida QB") against Alabama in 2010 late in the second quarter, one that took at least three points off the board.
Driskel also ran well when he got outside, and delivered the ball well in the rare instances when he had time. Those are expected things from him at this point, but I also expected him to take care of the ball and not kill Florida; the essence of why I expected Jacoby Brissett and not Driskel to win the starting job in the offseason was Brissett's generally more careful play in 2011. Driskel refined his game in the offseason, and had been very good to great throughout the year entering Saturday. He was not great when Florida most needed him to be, not even good, and seemed frustrated by his mistakes throughout.
But the call for Brissett to start or play now is an insane one. Driskel's mobility is a necessity for playing QB behind line that is still occasionally porous, and Brissett couldn't match it with full reps in practice; throwing him in cold would have been disastrous, and is not going to happen. Driskel's Florida's horse to ride until he heads to the NFL (he's a mid-round pick in 2014 if he improves modestly until then), or graduates, or, God forbid, breaks down. He's also a thoroughbred, and one who has a better record as a full-time starter than just about every other quarterback in Florida history through eight games. He just had a sophomoric game at the worst possible time.
Some fans. I genuinely wasn't embarrassed by anything I saw on the field yesterday, and I mean that seriously: The offense was facing a tremendous defensive player and a revitalized defense, the defense did valiant work in impossible situations, and Driskel's errors were growing pains more than anything. But the thing that makes the Florida-Georgia game great, the mixing and mingling of 40,000+ fans of both teams in Jacksonville, makes some embarrassing things happen, too.
First, a mea culpa: I wondered about making hotel reservations in Atlanta all week, even texting a friend about it. I never got far enough to actually look up hotels or costs, but I'm definitely going to remember that as a jinx for the rest of my life, and I'm never doing that again. Sorry.
Second, a second mea culpa: I finally got all of my game day preparations right last week for South Carolina: I had a lot of water and a full coffee cup of ice in my car for the postgame, took ibuprofen before the game to avoid a headache, applied sunscreen, wore a hat, brought a towel for my neck, and hydrated before the game. Yesterday, i did none of that, and ended up both thirsty and sunburned despite overcast skies. I'm not really superstitious, but , as the saying goes, I am a little stitious, and getting all my preparations right for the first time in five years in Gainesville one week before completely ignoring every lesson learned was stupid.
Third, there were assuredly fans with tickets on both sides who missed kickoff and the first few plays after doing something that was not getting to a seat by kickoff. I don't care if you miss the anthem, or the flyover, or all the pageantry before the game: Those aren't what you paid to see. But if you miss kickoff, you're making the ticket you paid good money for less valuable. That seems dumb to me.
Fourth, Florida fans were upset with Georgia fans for being happy that their team was doing something. Georgia fans undoubtedly get upset when Florida fans react to the Gators doing something, but it's not like there were a lot of chances for Florida fans to roar yesterday. I get that it annoys fans to see fans of other teams happy, but flipping birds at fans who could not give less of a damn what you think of their joy just seems like giving people you hate the satisfaction of your enmity.
Fifth, Georgia fans were obnoxious after the win, because you're supposed to be obnoxious after a win like that. But the two young women who eyerolled and stonewalled my sincere and good-natured questions about their cheers (I asked "Does this cheer have a name?" and got called a "sore loser") as I was exiting EverBank in the midst of many Dawgs were just jerks. I was smiling and congratulating Georgia fans, both because I do that in hopes of learning what they think and because I know that fans hate it when rival fans aren't devastated after losses, and decidedly not being a sore loser, but rivalries enforce the dichotomy of obnoxious winner/sore loser even when it doesn't fit. I love many things about college football; that ain't one of them.
Finally, there was at least one truly ugly incident at a tailgate on Saturday. Deadspin has the video of it, and it's graphic and disturbing enough that I'm not going to post it here. The taunting in the original version of the video is juvenile idiocy, and what appears to be a Georgia fan delivering knockout punches to the head of what appears to be a Florida fan is the worst of sports: Grown men who think that settling arguments about games with fists is worthwhile are not people I want sharing my air, and shouldn't be tolerated by fellow fans, much less egged on. When I go to a football game, I want safety off the field, and controlled violence on it. I can't be alone in that regard, or in hoping that the fan injured in this fight ends up being fine.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all day.