For more than two quarters, the Florida Gators looked like a match — maybe more than one — for the Georgia Bulldogs.
That appearance wouldn’t last for four. And Georgia wouldn’t fail to put Florida where it had to in Jacksonville, pulling away late for a 36-17 win.
For much of the first half, Florida was in the business of averting disaster and avoiding the sort of massive early deficit that led to last year’s 42-7 Georgia win in this game. And the Gators did that, despite coughing up a long drive leading to a field goal on the game’s first possession, a fumble leading to a touchdown on their first offensive series, and a Feleipe Franks interception shortly thereafter.
By the middle of the second quarter, in fact, Florida had drawn back within a field goal by engineering a drive ended by a Franks leap into the end zone.
And despite a late field goal drive on which Jake Fromm hit Isaac Nauta for four receptions with under a minute to go in the half, the Gators would take the lead early in the third quarter on a 36-yard strike from Franks to Freddie Swain.
The problem was that the lead wouldn’t hold.
Georgia followed that touchdown with a seven-play touchdown drive of its own, Fromm capping it by throwing his second touchdown to Jeremiah Holloman over Florida corner C.J. McWilliams — pressed into service, in part, by an early injury that would knock starter C.J. Henderson from the game — of the afternoon, and then recovered a Franks fumble at the Florida 1 late in the third.
Florida’s defense staged a heroic stand — over six snaps from Florida’s 1, thanks partly to a penalty on McWilliams, Georgia did not gain yardage, much less score — at that point, and the Gators cut Georgia’s lead back to a single possession with a field goal on their next possession.
But the rest of the game would belong to the Bulldogs. Fromm made a pair of excellent throws on a touchdown drive to stretch Georgia’s lead back to double digits early in the fourth quarter, and D’Andre Swift gutted Florida’s defense on a 33-yard touchdown run to conclude the day’s scoring.
Fromm threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns, and was never sacked, with the Gators reluctant to blitz with Henderson, fellow cover corner Marco Wilson, and starting safety Brad Stewart all off the field for much of the day. Georgia also didn’t concede a turnover.
Franks, meanwhile, threw for 105 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, also fumbling. And while Florida mustered 170 rushing yards (and the same yards per carry, 4.6, that Georgia managed), it fell to Franks to try to lead the Gators back late.
He was not up to the task, and so the Gators fell — for just the second time in a season many worried would be spent at rock bottom.
It’s better to have somewhere to fall from, it turns out.
But landing still isn’t fun.