Florida vs. Georgia, Rapid Recap: Gators miss chances to dance in Cocktail Party

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Missed chances and a slow start doomed Florida against Georgia.

Florida lost to Georgia, 23-20, on Saturday. You can relive the game through our Game Thread, if you're a masochist. The Rapid Recap is our comprehensive first look before a second full viewing of each Gators game. It will usually run within 24 hours of the game's end.

Even for a Florida team that has made a habit of spinning tales of two halves, Saturday's loss to Georgia was an object lesson in the dramatic differences between the beginning and the end of the game. And for the Gators, the beginning was bad, and the end was bad, and the in-between wasn't enough to make up for them.

How Florida Lost

Too deep a hole

Florida lost this game in its first half, and maybe in its first 15 minutes and 23 seconds. That's how long it took Georgia to build a 20-0 lead that would turn into a 23-3 halftime lead, three points larger than any halftime deficit Florida has overcome since at least 1966. And though this Gators team rallied in a way I didn't think it could, that canyon was just too big for the Gators, as they dug deep throughout the next 45 minutes of game clock, but came up just short of critical stops and just shy of a share of the lead throughout the fourth quarter.

Outstanding

Fightin' the Dawgs

I didn't like that Florida got itself drawn into a chippy game against Georgia that featured dirty play on both sides. I didn't like that all-around good guy Solomon Patton, clearly keyed up to play the team that ended his season last year, was chirping from his first kick return, and never stopped. I definitely didn't like Dante Fowler, Jr. putting his fingers all over Todd Gurley's facemask, and maybe in it.

But I loved how Florida fought back from adversity beyond even what this adversity-drenched team had previously experienced to make a game out of what should really have been a blowout.

Florida played poorly in the first half for that 15:23 stretch and even a little more, and Georgia could easily have been up 27 or 30 points at halftime. Florida's defense had no answers for Todd Gurley, especially early, and couldn't pressure Aaron Murray at all — until it did exactly that when it had. And Florida's offense felt mostly like a slightly better version of the one that we've seen since Tyler Murphy's been helming it, with steady production on nipping plays moving the sticks for long, long drives; its one truly huge play came on a drive that produced no points.

Still, the Gators made it all work, and stayed in the game until a penalty with under a minute left finished them off. As I wrote yesterday, moral victories are not real ones — but you would have to have Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-style technology to pry the pride this team filled me with yesterday from my brain. Rarely, over the last few years, have I wished I were at a Florida game that I was not at, but I really, really wanted to be in Jacksonville yesterday, and I had only the faintest flicker of hope that that would be the case after the dismal start to the game.

There's no one player, coach, or person responsible for that; it was a team effort. And Florida lost, but it lost as a team in this game, going down swinging (literally, in some cases) and clawing. This team will not be going gently into that good night, even as every sign from the football gods suggests it should, and I'm damn proud of that.

Loucheiz Purifoy, the assassin

Purifoy was much better in coverage against Georgia this year than last, giving up no catches that I could recall after my first viewing and ceding the Aaron Murray Memorial Picked-On Corner Award to Vernon Hargreaves III. And he also got to do the one thing he does best: Blitz off the corner.

Purifoy roared off the corner unblocked in the third quarter, getting to Murray in a couple of seconds for a safety that ended up swinging 10 points Florida's way, given the two points on the play and the subsequent touchdown drive. He is a playmaker, and that was a big play, and he made it like no other Florida player would have. It's been an up-and-down year for Purifoy, but, my goodness, the ups.

Encouraging

Suddenly, an offensive line exists

I didn't think Florida's offensive line was going to be better without D.J. Humprhies. But it was. I didn't think Trenton Brown was going to be able to stay in front of quicker rushers. But he did. And I didn't think Tyler Moore would do much of anything at left tackle. But he did.

Florida mostly handled Georgia's rush, which is the best part of its much-maligned defense, and gave Murphy clean pockets to work from all day. It gave him time to hit Quinton Dunbar for an 83-yard pass play that tied Chris Rainey's catch-and-run against Tennessee in 2011 for the longest completion by Florida in a decade. The mistakes made in the passing game were mostly on Murphy (with a couple on his receivers) for a change, and though Murphy's mistakes were frequently costly, it's actually sort of refreshing that he's getting more chances to make them, because those are also chances to connect for big plays.

The line also did a pretty good job in run blocking, though I'd hesitate to call it excellent. Neither Taylor nor Mack Brown was really consistently good, but there were always a couple yards for the back in on the play to get, one way or another. If this improvement lasts, Florida's chances of bottoming out are gonna dwindle.

Murphy improved

Tyler Murphy was bad in the first half. His best throw was to Dunbar, and it was still underthrown in a way that may have cost a touchdown. He missed badly on a number of throws, and missed by just enough on several to force receivers to make excellent catches, rather than easy ones. And these were not hard throws he was missing: They were the ones that Brent Pease pretty clearly has made part of this offense for the purposes of helping Murphy out, short passes over the middle and screens. There was little pressure to blame, and, given the second half and Murphy's total lack of discomfort on the day, it's hard to think it had anything to do with the shoulder injury that had supposedly lingered for a month. And he was no better in the running game, running a speed option that he is bad at, not the read option he excels with.

But Murphy went from bad to fairly good in the second half, as Pease's planning for him went from decent to very good. He hit quick throws and ran well, then ran exceptionally on the first two plays of the fourth quarter, both read options, to bring Florida within five points of the lead. He also hung in the pocket and hit Clay Burton for the crucial two-pointer to follow. It wasn't hard to improve on his first half, but Murphy did it, and looked comfortable running, something he absolutely has to be doing to make Florida's offense as dangerous as possible. Florida hit on something resembling a new formula in this game, and needs to be tweaking it, not making major changes, for the rest of the year.

And so did the defense

Florida's defense has followed a pattern of sorts this year in its losses: Bad play early that helps Florida fall into a hole, improvement for much of the middle of the game, and a final failure in the fourth quarter that seals a loss. That happened against Miami, LSU, and Missouri, and it definitely happened against Georgia. The first quarter was a full-on systems failure, with Antonio Morrison looking like a waste of a scholarship and Gurley running anywhere he wanted. But Florida didn't give up many big plays after that first quarter, which accounted for more than half of Georgia's total yardage on the day.

And the defense made huge plays on Leon Orr's fumble recovery (which was heartening heads-up work from him for the second time in three games) and Purifoy's safety, then made another massive one by stringing out Gurley on a fourth and one, followed by Neiron Ball's ticky-tack penalty for removing his helmet. The stretch from the third quarter until the final drive of the fourth was a great one for Florida's defense, which misses Dominique Easley so, so much, and struggles to do things other than cover on a consistent basis. This defense has slipped significantly from the unit with Easley, which was arguably elite and/or great; it's just very good now.

But being very good consistently might be enough, if it can also be elite from time to time.

No turnovers

Granted, Murphy threw a couple of iffy passes that maybe should've been picked. But Florida coughed it up zero times one year after committing six turnovers against Georgia, and. That's praise-worthy improvement.

The fans who roared

One reason I wish I'd been in Jacksonville: That crowd sounded like it was fun as hell to be part of in the second half.

I've only been to the Florida-Georgia game once, and that was last year, so I've never experienced a win in person. But the loss I went to and the games I've watched over the last six or seven years have been dramatic, thrilling contests in one way or another, and I'm guessing there's nothing like your team winning one in front of a 50-50 crowd.

If the fans who were there in Jacksonville come to the rest of Florida's games this year, and bring like two or three friends each, those crowds in The Swamp are gonna be great!

Both Good and Bad

Georgia's better than Florida

Okay, yes, Georgia was relying on Rhett McGowan on Saturday at receiver. Gurley's conditioning has been so significantly impacted by the high ankle injury he sustained last month that he basically played a little more than half of the game. Georgia doesn't have a very good defense.

But Georgia has Aaron Murray, and Gurley, and a really good offensive line, and a near-automatic kicker, and those three things alone are much, much better than what Florida has in a lot of sense. With Murray, Georgia can run a full offense and trust its quarterback to execute whatever plan is designed. With Gurley, any handoff could turn into a big play. And with Marshall Morgan, a drive to the other team's 30 is probably worth three points.

Georgia was rightly favored in this game, and barely covered. And that felt like both the right outcome for the game and a massive success for Florida, given its start. Climbing to the top of the hole, but not out of it, wasn't nothing, not against a team that got to keep its greatest talents.

Of course, it also sucks to admit that Georgia's better than Florida, even if it's only a temporary verdict.

Needs Improvement

Florida has to start faster

Florida's given up touchdowns in the first halves of all of its four losses this year, and touchdowns in three of those games' first quarters. In the first half, the Gators trailed by eight against Miami, by 11 against LSU, by 10 against Missouri, and by 20 against Georgia — and Florida never even tied the game in any of those games.

Muschamp's teams aren't really built to come back from deficits, and they haven't done much of that this year, despite coming back repeatedly from smaller ones in 2012. They'll scrap, certainly, but long drives are the Gators' bread and butter, and those shorten games to the point that the margin for error in coming back from deficits becomes very, very small. And Florida just can't throw it all over the lot and get first downs in a hurry-up situation, not without Jeff Driskel, who was actually rather good at that, or Matt Jones, whose pass-blocking was necessary for those salvos.

And if Florida's defense is going to keep stumbling out of the blocks, then it needs to adjust how it starts on offense — and, perhaps, start on offense, instead of deferring the ball to the second half.

Vernon Hargreaves III needs to be used better

Georgia's best offensive option yesterday, other than waiting for Gurley to run by, over, and/or around Antonio Morrison, was finding Michael Bennett and getting him the ball. It did this repeatedly, especially in the first half, to great effect.

And it did so against Vernon Hargreaves III, whose typically excellent coverage on those plays simply wasn't enough against a good, big receiver who runs good routes. Hargreaves was a mismatch for Bennett, who could shield him, and him playing off the line against him in the slot was a recipe for failure. He's not the guy who needed to be on Bennett (maybe Brian Poole would have been?), and he could've been better used on the outside.

I trust Hargreaves to have great or near-great coverage against virtually any receiver he sees, but I'm also not going to let my faith in him blind me to the idea that there are still bigger, stronger guys that he can't fully shut down by dint of his youth and lack of strength just yet. I'd hope Florida watches the tape of this game and sees that, too.

Woof, the kickers

Florida wins this game with Caleb Sturgis, and it might win it comfortably. It lost it with two kickers who missed what should be fairly routine kicks — a 40-yarder for Frankie Velez, a 47-yarder from Austin Hardin — for a decent college kicker. But neither Velez nor Hardin is, and so Florida left six points on the field, and gave the ball to Georgia with pretty good field position in both cases.

It's gonna be a problem all year, and I'm not sure there's a fix. But Florida's kickers certainly need improvement.

The Florida offense could use another threat

I headlined another blurb in this section with the same title after the Kentucky game, but it's still true. Florida didn't use Patton on any sweeps in this game, and used Valdez Showers once, and didn't even target Demarcus Robinson, though Ahmad Fulwood had a pair of nice catches. But if you can stop Florida on the ground, you can stop Florida, because the Gators just can't hit deep balls with any regularity, and their current rotation of targets for the underneath games lacks a singular explosive player.

Just one more threat, whether it's Fulwood or Robinson or Dunbar actually getting consistent targets deep, would do a lot to open up the offense, which might also break Florida of its addiction to staying on schedule. And that would be helpful for the team and a huge relief for its fans.

Embarrassing

Oh, man, the penalties

I can't bring myself to give a shit about offsetting penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct in this rivalry, because a) they have no practical impact on the game and b) the chippiness comes from both sides, is constant, and has the side effect of making the games pretty fun to watch. As long as the players aren't getting hurt — and, frankly, only Fowler's hand on Gurley's facemask looked like it could've hurt to me — I'm fine with them being a little aggressive and getting flagged for stupid, macho stuff.

But the other penalties, the ones that didn't offset, managed to hurt a lot. Patton's swipe at a Dawg pushed back a field goal attempt that was missed; back-to-back penalties on Brown and Moore cost Florida at least another field goal attempt; Ball's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was the product of a dumb rule (you should be able to remove your helmet when it's come loose play after a play is clearly over), but it hamstrung Florida's offense at a critical moment. A holding penalty on Brown wiped out another good play; Darious Cummings's illegal hands to the face late sealed the game for Georgia.

Penalties also kept Florida in the game, because Georgia did dumb things, too, but the Gators were more damaged by theirs than helped by Georgia's, and there was enough damage done to point at the penalties as a primary cause of death. Maybe Brown's issues get cleaned up as he gets more action, and maybe the dumb personal fouls don't happen in a less chippy game, but the people who whine incessantly about Florida's penalty problem got powerful evidence of why they matter in this one.

The red zone is a dead zone

Thank goodness Tyler Murphy ran all the way in on Florida's second touchdown of the day: Had he been stopped short of the goal line, who knows how Florida would have finished that drive?

Florida's issues with giving Trey Burton the ball behind the line are well-documented, and that wasn't really the issue in the red zone this week; instead, the Gators proved they could be predictable and ineffective even without their most predictable and ineffective crutch. Mack Brown's two good runs and Murphy's keeper were Florida's only good plays in the red zone on the day, and they all shared an aggressiveness that the other plays really lacked. Florida threw into the end zone just once, I believe, and it was on a fade to Patton, who is just a bit taller than Erving Walker.

Florida scored just three points on two red zone trips in the first half, and squandered all of the momentum of the bomb to Dunbar with its first failure. The two touchdowns in the second half were better, but they didn't make for the deficit, and thus they don't make up for the failures, at least for me.

Florida missed so many opportunities

What if Patton keeps his cool and doesn't swipe? What if Morrison stays with Gurley on that green dog blitz? What if Florida throws its fade to Fulwood? What if Murphy leads Dunbar a little on fourth and 10? What if Florida punts? What if Florida holds on third and 22? What if Austin Hardin's field goal is just four yards deeper? What if Ball's penalty doesn't happen? What if Florida stops Georgia on that last drive? What if Florida scores on any of the five possessions it took to Georgia's 40 or further without finishing with points?

Georgia could've made an error or two more, too, and the false start refs missed on that third and 22 ended up being really, really significant, but this game was Florida's to take despite not playing all that well, and the Gators just couldn't quite do it. It was the sort of valiant loss by a doomed team that exasperates fans, and many of them are going to be calling for heads to roll once again.

But this is the sort of loss that exasperates coaches, too, and Muschamp's sounded like a man who is running out of ways to say "Look, we're good, and other teams have been slightly better, and that's frustrating, but I can't tell you that my players failed to make the necessary plays because I'm not that guy" since the final whistle.

And that leads to the final full note of this post.

A middle finger to the bird-flipping Gators fan

The Florida fan who decides to yell obscenities and give a "Fuck you" gesture to the head coach after that game is also one who stayed for the second half, and who thus saw how hard Florida's players played for that coach. And then he stayed long enough to yell, because that was his way of ... making himself feel better? There's no question in my mind that that fan probably posted on a message board after the game, two or three drinks deep, using variations on "Muschump" and a lot of names after the word "fire."

And you know what? It's incidents like this one that make me sympathetic to the coaches — Steve Spurrier, and Ron Zook, and Urban Meyer — who have all remarked on the unusually great expectations Florida fans have for Florida football coaches. Yeah, Muschamp's job performance can be questioned — Muschamp himself would accept that it should be, I think. But there's a difference between having your performance questioned, and having part of your job include dealing with drunks — drunk on anger or on alcohol, there's little practical difference — who disrespect you. And it's frustrating that that fan, not the many more rational and fairer fans, is always the guy who makes the impression ... while Muschamp's the guy who has to deal with headlines like this.

I promise I'm not going to spend any more time on this nontroversy, because it really doesn't matter. And I'll say this for Muschamp, too: "Why don't you come down here?" even in a situation where the best response is no response and any threat is an empty threat, is better than I would've done.

That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all day.

Star-divide

Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.

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