Photo by Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

Jacksonville, FL – Florida left Jacksonville with heavy hearts on Saturday evening. With an opportunity to take a major step forward in their goal to reach Atlanta, the Gators failed to seize the moment and ultimately lost to Eastern rival, Georgia for the third year in a row. Despite executing the keys to victory that I identified earlier in the week, Florida struggled in the areas that they should have found success.

For the most part, Bulldogs running back, D’Andre Swift was contained, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry on his way to 86 yards. This is exactly what the Gators wanted to do. By slowing Swift and the Bulldogs’ rushing attack, it forced the game into the hands of Jake Fromm and a receiving corps that has been mostly lackluster this season. However, Fromm exploited every soft coverage that the Gators gave him.

On the day, Fromm completed 66% of his passes for 279 yards and a pair of Georgia touchdowns. The biggest surprise of the night was the emergence of Lawrence Cager. Florida’s secondary had no answer for the senior wideout who hauled in seven catches for 132 yards and a score. What should have been a winning defensive gameplan was undermined by the Gators’ inability to get the Bulldogs off the field.

Georgia converted twelve of eighteen third downs, preventing Florida’s offense from seeing much of the field. When the Gators did have the ball, they struggled with getting the correct personnel on and off the field. They were forced to burn two of their three timeouts on the first possession of the game when they lined up without enough players on the field. For all of the third-down success that Georgia had, the Gators were equally inefficient, going just two for nine on third downs.

Kyle Trask finished with a solid stat line, passing for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns — the first Gators quarterback to finish with two passing touchdowns in the Florida/Georgia game since Tim Tebow in 2009 — but displayed his inexperience by taking some costly sacks instead of throwing the ball away. On one of those plays, Trask ran 19 yards deep into the backfield before taking the sack. Thus ending an otherwise promising drive.

For all of the hype around having all of their stars back from injury, Kadarius Toney and Jabari Zuniga really didn’t make much of an impact in the game. Zuniga had the biggest play between the two when he leveled D’Andre Swift for a four-yard loss on Georgia’s opening drive. Toney finished with just one touch, a handoff to the outside that went nowhere. Jonathan Greenard, also back from injury, led the team with nine tackles but came away with zero tackles for loss, an area in which he has excelled this season.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day was the coaching. Florida has one of the best head coaches in the nation. Mullen can set up a play better than just about anybody in the game but much of the playcalling was milquetoast. The fact that Gators were flagged for illegal substitutions and had to burn several timeouts because they couldn’t get the proper players out onto the field also falls on the coaching staff. Such issues shouldn’t take place within a top ten team at this point in the season, especially coming off of a bye week.

Many fans will also point to the officiating. They have a valid argument. It was poor, to say the least. Georgia’s first touchdown was set up when an obvious incomplete pass to Cager was called a completion, reviewed, and then upheld. Had the review been handled properly, the play would have resulted in a fourth down. Another review overturned a first down for the Gators and ultimately stalled their opening drive. There was far less evidence to overturn the first down than there was to overturn the incompletion that was ruled a catch.

However, Florida should have taken the game into their own hands and executed at a level that would never have allowed the game to be influenced by bad calls or even by no calls. In the end, the Gators showed that they are, indeed, still in a rebuild. A lack of depth at key positions is still rearing its ugly head and until Dan Mullen and his staff are able to bring in talent and numbers, Florida is going to continue to have days like this. The good news? They didn’t get run off the field as they have in the past two meetings.

Florida is closing the gap and they are showing that they will be a legitimate contender, once again, under Dan Mullen. Although Atlanta appears to be lost, Florida still has much to play for. A 10-2 finish with a shot at a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl appearance is still a successful completion to year two of Mullen’s tenure. Though the loss stings right now, it is still great to be a Florida Gator.

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