Well, it’s oh-fer no more.
On a day when a whole bunch of Gators and media alike thought would be Muschamp’s final rodeo at the University of Florida, the Gators turned the tables on the 11th-ranked Bulldogs and it wasn’t even close. Call Florida’s 38-20 win over Georgia in Jacksonville the kind of game that could reinvigorate both the Muschamp coaching career and the Gators’ season because – shockingly – UF is back in the hunt for the SEC East championship. The Gators (4-3, 3-3 SEC) need some help, but let’s face it, who expected a win Saturday much less one of the most embarrassing losses ever for Georgia (6-2, 4-2 SEC) in the storied history of this rivalry. Georgia still controls its own destiny but that’s a destiny with a great big Auburn obstacle still on the schedule, so a third conference loss is possible.
So how did it happen? How did the Gators go from decided underdogs to dominant winners? How did Muschamp go from buzzards circling over his Florida coaching career to winner in the biggest game on the biggest stage.
Well, he threw in a little tomfoolery to get a touchdown on a fake field goal, but after that it could have been straight from the pages of a decent Pop Warner team. It was Kelvin Taylor left, Kelvin Taylor right or Matt Jones left, Matt Jones right. Occasionally, freshman quarterback Treon Harris, making the first start of his career, popped a quarterback draw in there and there was an ill-advised jet sweep with Andre Debose.
Otherwise, this was pure vanilla extract. Other than the fake field goal that Michael McNeely used to scoot 21 yards for Florida’s first touchdown in the first quarter when the Gators tied the game at 7-7, the game plan was simplistic and relied heavily on execution of the offensive line. There couldn’t have been more than eight or ten plays in the entire game plan that offensive coordinator Kurt Roper drew up for Harris. He threw only six passes, completed three for 27 yards although one of the throws was a nifty 13-yard strike to Latroy Pittman to set up Florida’s second touchdown, a 2-yard run by Taylor, who had a career high 197 yards on 25 carries, good for two touchdowns. The other two touchdowns were the handiwork of Jones, who also got 25 carries, good for 192 yards. Altogether, the Gators gained 418 yards on the ground against a Georgia defense that ranked #13 nationally against the run heading into the game.
“I thought we would be able to run the ball,” Muschamp said to CBS as he left the field, adding that there were some pass plays in the game plan that just weren’t necessary because the ball moved on the ground so efficiently.
The McNeely touchdown was the floodgate opening of a 31-point Florida run. There were touchdown runs of two by Taylor and 44 by Jones and a 21-yard field goal by Frankie Velez in a first half that saw the Gators head into the locker up by a shocking 24-7 margin. The lead expanded to 31-7 on the second Jones touchdown, a 1-yard run in the third quarter. Georgia closed the gap to 31-13 and seemed poised to score again when the UF defense came up with a huge stop on fourth down from the Florida two. Five plays later, Taylor went wide right, found an opening and then sped down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown run that was icing on a delicious Florida cake. The Bulldogs got a meaningless touchdown with three seconds to go but this game had been over for a long time.
Kelvin Taylor (right) celebrates with OL Roderick Johnson
Conventional wisdom pointed to a Georgia win, perhaps even by blowout proportions. On a six-game roll, the Bulldogs weren’t even deterred by the loss of Todd Gurley, serving the third of a four-game NCAA suspension for selling his autograph to brokers. In Gurley’s absence, the Bulldogs turned the offense over to freshman Nick Chubb but even though Chubb went over the 100-yard mark for the third straight game (156 against the Gators) Georgia needed more. Florida made Chubb earn every single yard but then dared quarterback Hutson Mason to beat them. Mason’s stat line looks fairly decent – 26-41 for 319 yards and a touchdown – but most of his yardage came against an eight-man Florida zone designed to keep everything in front of the safeties.
Mason showed once and for all against Florida that he’s a game manager, not a playmaker, certainly not the kind of playmaker that a team can hitch its wagon to when the going gets tough.
Florida, meanwhile, let its offensive line dominate the line of scrimmage and the result was devastating. Forget that talk that Georgia is a darkhorse candidate to make college football’s first playoff semifinals. The Bulldogs might not even make it to Atlanta.
The Gators, meanwhile, might have righted the listing ship that was Muschamp’s tenure at UF. He’s still got four critical games to go, but if he can get the Gators past Vanderbilt and South Carolina in the next two SEC games, he could win the SEC. Win those two and D1AA Eastern Kentucky and it’s a 7-3 Florida team that goes into Tallahassee on somewhat of a roll.
Sure, there is a long way to go but you can count on Will Muschamp being around to finish off the season and if he wins the SEC East – entirely possible – he’s not going anywhere.
GEORGIA 7, FLORIDA 0: Nick Chubb capped a 9-play, 85-yard drive on Georgia’s second possession with a 39-yard touchdown run on a sweep off the right side with 9:02 remaining in the first quarter. On the drive, Chubb carried four times for 55 yards and caught a screen pass for a 19-yard gain and a critical third down conversion. Marshall Morgan’s extra point made it 7-0.
FLORIDA 7, GEORGIA 7: The Gators did a Les Miles to tie the game, digging deep into the special teams bag of tricks to pull off the unexpected. With fourth and eight at the Georgia 21, Muschamp sent in the field goal unit for what everyone in the ball yard thought was a 39-yard attempt by Frankie Velez. Holder Michael McNeely, a 5-8, 176-pound senior walk-on from Clearwater, took the direct snap, squeezed through a hole provided by Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook and sprinted into the end zone. Following a false start against the Gators, Velez tied the game with the extra point.
FLORIDA 14, GEORGIA 7: Following a critical third down stop when Jarrad Davis shot a gap to stop Chubb for a one-yard loss, the Gators took over after the punt on their own 36 and proceeded to drive 64 yards in five plays, scoring the touchdown on a 2-yard Kelvin Taylor run with 5:06 to go. It was a 44-yard run by Taylor that put the Bulldogs on their heels in the shadow of their own goal posts. On the play, Taylor got an assist from one of the officials, who, in moving out of Taylor’s way, blocked one of the Georgia linebackers 13 yards into the run. At the 15, Treon Harris rolled right on second and 10, hitting LaTroy Pittman at the two for the first down. Taylor scored on the next play and Velez capped the drive with the extra point with 5:06 left in the half.
FLORIDA 21, GEORGIA 7: The offensive philosophy remained the same as the Gators started the second half: pound away with the run game at a Georgia defense that gave up 162 first half rushing yards. Matt Jones finished off the drive with a 44-yard touchdown run off the left side, aided by two outstanding downfield blocks by wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. On the 6-play, 73-yard drive, the Gators ran the ball six times with Taylor carrying five times for 27 yards. The only pass was a 2-yard completion from Harris to Brandon Powell the play before Jones sprinted to the end zone. The extra point by Velez gave the Gators a two-touchdown lead with 12:07 remaining in the quarter.
FLORIDA 24, GEORGIA 7: The Florida defense got a three-and-out on Georgia’s first possession of the second half. Taking over at the UF 40, Florida drove the ball to Georgia eight for a first and goal only to see the drive stall out. To get to the eight, the Gators got runs of 12 by Harris, 25 and seven by Jones and a critical offsides against Georgia on a third down at the Georgia 13. When the drive broke down, Velez came on to kick a 21-yard field goal to extend Florida’s lead to 17 with 5:09 left in the half.
FLORIDA 31, GEORGIA 7: Florida’s special teams, so atrocious against Missouri two weeks ago, were solid in coverage throughout the game but at the end of the fourth quarter, the return game came into play when Andre Debose ran a Collin Barber punt back 38 yards to the Georgia 26. From there it was all about Matt Jones, who carried five straight times, the last from one yard out in the wildcat from a yard out for the touchdown with 13:49 left in the game. Austin Hardin came on to kick the extra point in place of Velez, who strained his left while kicking the field goal in the third quarter.
GEORGIA 13, FLORIDA 31: The Bulldogs got their first touchdown since the first quarter on an 8-play, 63-yard drive that was aided by a roughing the passer call against the Gators. On the drive, Mason completed 4-6 passes, the most important a 16-yard connection to Chubb out of the backfield on a third and 10 that extended the drive. The touchdown came on a 10-yard pass that was tipped into the air by Vernon Hargreaves III into the hands of Chubb in the right corner of the end zone with 11:06 remaining in the game. Georgia went for the two-point conversion but Chubb bobbled the ball.
FLORIDA 38, GEORGIA 13: The Bulldogs had a chance to make a serious cut into the lead but the Florida defense not only forced the Bulldogs to eat up four minutes of clock, but kept Georgia out of the end zone on four consecutive plays from inside the six. Taking over at their own two, the Gators gave the ball to Matt Jones five straight plays to get the ball out to the 35 where Taylor came in and delivered the final dagger to Georgia’s heart with the 65-yard touchdown run. Hardin added the final point with 2:11 to go.
GEORGIA 20, FLORIDA 38: Georgia went 75 yards in 10 plays for a meaningless touchdown on a 5-yard Mason to Malcolm Mitchell pass with three seconds to go. Florida played prevent and forced Georgia to use all the clock.