Fall Sports

Grading the Gators: Florida flounders in Jacksonville

Photo by David Rosenblum / Getty Images

The Florida Gators nearly salvaged a positive result in Jacksonville from perhaps their worst performance of the 2019 season.

Down 16-3 entering the fourth quarter with a negative total of rushing yards, UF could not get anything going until quarterback Kyle Trask came to life in the final frame. However, a tired defense that couldn’t get off the field dug the Gators into a hole it couldn’t climb out of, and it led to some of the worst grades of the season.

Offense: C-

What’s most frustrating about Florida’s mere 17 points against Georgia is that it moved the ball decently. UF only posted one three-and-out and didn’t commit a turnover, relying on short-to-intermediate passes to Kyle Pitts and Freddie Swain to jumpstart drives.

However, as the field shrunk, so did the Gators’ ability to pick up first downs. They floundered on third down, converting just 2 of 9 opportunities.

A lack of running game prevented Florida from creating third-and-manageable situations, as it only had one situation of third-and-4 or less: a run with Dameon Pierce that was stuffed for a two yard loss. In total, UF mustered just 21 yards on 19 attempts.

Kyle Trask played a strong fourth quarter, going 8 of 13 for 74 yards and two touchdowns in the frame. He is the first UF quarterback to throw for two touchdowns against Georgia since Tim Tebow in 2009, but his first three quarters of play were mediocre at best.

Four of Florida’s first five drives ended without points (it only had seven drives total). Trask’s worst moments were when he took the game’s only two sacks, one for 10 yards in the first quarter and another for 19 yards in the fourth quarter.

A botched fourth-and-1 pass to Pitts on the first drive also gave the Bulldogs major early momentum, and the Gators didn’t recover from the loss of mojo until its first touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

Defense: D-

Out of all the disappointing statistics for the Florida defense, one factored most into its failing grade: 12 for 18 on third down.

The Gators allowed quarterback Jake Fromm and the UGA offense to pick up 66.6 percent of its third downs, as the penultimate play — a 22 yard pass to tight end Eli Wolf on third-and-7 on the contest’s last drive — secured the UGA win.

The Bulldogs were 5 for 5 on third and less than four, but their average distance on the critical down was 7.2, meaning UF had plenty of opportunities to get off the field and didn’t. Fromm converted eight passes on third down, averaging almost 12 yards per completion. He was comfortable in the pocket too, only being pressured twice and never sacked.

Florida got off the field only twice without giving up points: once in the second quarter in its own territory and again in the third quarter thanks to a holding call on a would-be touchdown.

And when they needed to get off the field most critically, the Gators floundered. A busted coverage by safety Shawn Davis against UGA’s best receiver, Lawrence Cager, in the fourth quarter allowed Cager to take 52 yard pass to the end zone. Then on the critical third-and-7 completion to Wolf, safety Brad Stewart was burned by the former-Tennessee tight end, and he couldn’t recover despite a lofted pass thrown off of Fromm’s back foot.

Special Teams: B

No wonder the punt team eats first at pregame meals, because it is by far Florida’s most consistent unit.

Tommy Townsend punted well two of the three times he was called upon, averaging 43.7 yards per punt. His first boot went 56 yards and put Georgia inside its own 20. He got off another 43 yard punt deep in his own territory in the second quarter despite a near block, but his 32 yard effort in the third quarter was a wasted opportunity to pin the Bulldogs deep in their own territory.

Kicker Evan McPherson made a critical field goal in the first half from 38 yards, helping bring the game within one possession.

However, Florida’s kickoff coverage was a little shaky. UGA returner Brian Herrrien had a kick return of 27 and 25 yards, the first of which brought the ball to the UGA 32 and led to a field goal.

Coaching: D-

Florida was out-coached by Georgia. It’s that simple.

Yet as much credit as one must give to Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs, Florida repeatedly shot itself in the foot, starting with the opening offensive drive.

Before the failed fourth-and-1, the Gators had third-and-1 from the Georgia 40. A false start by inexperienced tight end Dante Lang (a puzzling person to have on the field in such an important situation) moved UF to third-and-6 before running back Lamical Perine came up short to the line to gain. Really it was fourth-and-a-foot, but Dan Mullen decided to call a pass to tight end Kyle Pitts rather than a more quick developing play.

Defensively, the execution of Todd Grantham’s plays was mystifyingly bad. Georgia had success hitting underneath routes for first downs, playing right into Florida’s seven-man zone. However, soft coverage, especially by the linebackers, allowed UGA receivers to catch the ball and run past the sticks. On Georgia’s first third-down conversion, a third-and-14 pass completed to Cager, linebacker David Reese dropped five yards past the first down line, allowing Cager to run a simple drag route and scamper for a first down with little contest.

Late in the game, Florida’s offense improved, but its time management came into serious question. The Gators used almost seven minutes on its last offensive drive, basically running down the clock for UGA. Mullen was also forced to use a critical timeout on the drive when Van Jefferson lined up and covered an inside receiver. Having this timeout would have allowed Florida to get the ball back, albeit with very little time.

Finally, why were so many of Florida’s best athletes underused?

Kadarius Toney’s return from injury was hyped, but he touched the ball once. Maybe he’s not healthy enough to get a volume of touches, but at least use him as a decoy and give him more than one opportunity.

With a struggling running game, why not allow Emory Jones to handle the ball more? He gives UF an extra dynamic in its rushing attack and could open things up, especially when UGA was putting only five players in the box (which it did quite often, as it didn’t respect the run at all).

Also, wide receiver Jacob Copeland had a career performance against South Carolina, while fellow receiver Josh Hammond has been one of UF’s most explosive players this season.

Copeland didn’t receive a pass, while Hammond caught one ball for five yards. The lack of involvement of playmakers was one of the most confusing trends in the loss, and any of the players could have been a major difference maker if aptly utilized.

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