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Georgia 34, Florida 7: Gators doomed in a flash by flurry of mistakes

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Florida went from trailing 3-0 to giving up three TDs in just three minutes.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With 3:11 to play in Jacksonville on Saturday, Florida’s Rashad Torrence — in the midst of a brilliant game, unquestionably the finest of his young and promising career — snared a floated Stetson Bennett pass just outside Florida’s end zone, continued into it because of momentum in the physics sense, then turned and barely escaped it, likely fearing that he risked being called for a safety and adding to Georgia’s 3-0 lead despite having made a huge play for his team.

As it turns out, Florida might have been better off if he’d just gone down and been assessed one.

Anthony Richardson fumbled while being stood up and pushed two plays later, Nolan Smith prying the ball from his hands while most players on the field looked to be waiting for a whistle that didn’t come, and Georgia turned the next snap into its first touchdown of the day thanks to a James Cook run.

Two plays into Florida’s next drive, an acrobatic deflection by Nakobe Dean led another ball from Richardson’s hand — this one a pass — to Smith’s clutches. One play later, Georgia had scored again, Bennett finding a fading Kearis Jackson for the only passing touchdown on the day.

And then, with Florida trying to score points prior to halftime — in part to answer the fusillade that had already flechetted its chances of upsetting the nation’s No. 1 team — Georgia picked off Richardson again, with Dean stepping in front of a Richardson throw to the outside and sprinting to six points.

In 13 plays and just more than three minutes, Florida went from trailing 3-0 to giving up three scores.

So much for three being the magic number.

The Gators would eventually force three turnovers — Torrence, amazingly, collecting all of them, adding a fumble recovery and another interception in the second half — but never got back into the game after that blitz to close the first half, losing 34-7 to the Bulldogs and falling to 4-4 on the season.

Richardson, making his much-anticipated first start, was mostly unimpressive, completing 12 of 20 passes for 82 yards, struggling to make significant headway on the hoof, and giving up the Gators’ three turnovers. He left the game in the third quarter with an apparent upper body injury, and was replaced by Emory Jones — who, in an amusing reversal of recent trends, played his snaps without risking a turnover, eventually leading a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that preserved Florida’s NCAA-record streak of scoring points in consecutive football games that dates to 1988.

Jones completed 10 of 14 passes for 112 yards and ran for 22 yards and Florida’s only touchdown in relief of Richardson, who did not return to the game after his injury.

But neither QB — nor most of Florida’s offense — had much of a chance of doing more than chipping away against Georgia’s defense. (Dameon Pierce’s bruising running — nine carries, 69 yards — provided the exception.)

And the offense’s mistakes and two missed field goals by Jace Christmann surely left many Gators in attendance and on the sideline alike regretting a missed opportunity at an upset — especially given the Florida defense’s impressive show of resilience.

Only three of Georgia’s four touchdowns came on offense, after all — and all three came on possessions starting in Florida territory, thanks to the fumble and pick in the second quarter and an onside kick attempt after the Gators’ scoring drive in the fourth. Two weeks ago, Florida hemorrhaged yardage and points to LSU while looking baffled by basic counter plays — but while Georgia ran a few of those to success, the Gators also largely stifled the Dawgs on the day, yielding only a few big plays while racking up more stops.

And even with Georgia running in a TD while up 20 late in the game, Florida actually outgained the Dawgs on the day by a single yard — though their 355 yards came less efficiently, on 74 plays, than Georgia’s 354 on 52 snaps.

But this was ultimately another game of what-ifs and if-thens for Florida in 2021, another example of a team that does many things well — but nothing better, unfortunately, than make errors that become devastating to its chances of winning football games.