1. Georgia’s 38-20 loss to Florida on Saturday was disappointing, unexpected and costly. But while the Bulldog Nation is erecting Mark Richt effigies to burn from St. Simons to Ringgold, not enough people are placing credit where it needs to be placed – with Florida.
Statistically, the Bulldogs and Gators entered the game remarkably close in every area except scoring offense. But the one place where Florida had a decided edge was in the area of desperation.
The Gators – and coach Will Muschamp, in particular – came in with their proverbial backs against the wall. There were reports in the two weeks leading up to the game that Muschamp could be fired if Florida got embarrassed on the way to losing a fourth straight time to Georgia.
Afterward, in an emotional Florida locker room, players talked about winning for their coach on Saturday. Meanwhile, an impassioned Muschamp, talked about wanting to win for his father, Larry Muschamp, who died this past May. Muschamp grew up in Gainesville, Fla., and his father was a big Gators’ fan.
“I wish my father was here,” Muschamp said afterward. “That’s what I thought about at the end of the game.”
Georgia, by contrast, was a higher-ranked, heavily-favored team going for its fourth straight win in the series. In that context, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Florida played a more inspired game. And as I said many times in the days leading up to the game, the talent and statistical differentials between the teams weren’t great, especially without Todd Gurley suiting up for the Bulldogs. In retrospect, the emotional edge was heavily weighted in the Gators’ favor.
2. To be clear, though, Georgia lost the game because of its inability to stop the run, period. The Gators had 424 yards rushing when they took a knee for a six-yard loss to end the game. Any other attempts at explanation are a waste of breath.
“First of all, we were way tougher than they were,” Florida offensive lineman D.J. Humphries said. “We knocked the fight out of them. By the second half, all the fight was blown out of them.”
That said, there were three strategic breakdowns that contributed to the Bulldogs losing momentum in the first half:
(a) When Marshall Morgan missed a 39-yard field – and there is a lot of debate about whether he actually missed the kick – time expired in the first quarter. The Bulldogs could have let the clock run out before Morgan attempted the kick, which would have meant flipping ends of the field and Morgan would have been kicking with the wind in the other direction. As it is, there were many people positioned behind the goal posts on that end of the field that swear the kick was good as it was. Richt said he considered calling a timeout to ask if the officials if the kick could be reviewed. It can’t.
(b) Florida’s first score came on the ensuing possession off of a fake field goal. Richt admitted on Sunday that someone from his staff should have recognized that the holder the Gators were using was not their normal guy and wasn’t even listed as a backup. “Should (have),” he said. “We just didn’t respond well. It could have been if a coach saw that, we call timeout. We didn’t get that done.”
(c) Richt let 20 seconds bleed off the clock at the end of the first half. He should have called timeout the instant Matt Jones was stopped for a one-yard gain on third-and-three. But Richt didn’t make the call until the 1:09 mark, which meant the Bulldogs didn’t get the ball back via punt until one-minute remained, and then at their own 18. They then had no choice but to let the clock run out from there. Richt took total blame: “I did a bad job of deciding what to do. That was strictly on me. … I should have called it sooner. As I’m processing the decision, the clock was ticking, and that’s a poor job by me.”
3. Lost in the agony of defeat for Georgia was an otherwise uplifting story from the Gators’ sideline. The game-turning play – a fake-field goal that went 21 yards for a touchdown – was executed by a former walkon who bags groceries at Publix every Sunday. In fact, senior wide receiver Michael McNeeley worked his regular 1 p.m.-to-8:45 p.m. shift in Gainesville the day after the game.
McNeeley is a fifth-year senior who has played mainly on special teams toiled as a walkon until this season, when he earned a scholarship. He was accepted into UF’s medical school just last week.
“I’ll never forget this the rest of my life,” McNeeley said after the game.
That’s probably true for a lot of Georgia fans, too.
4. Of course, that fake field goal wasn’t the first one that has worked against the Bulldogs. Vanderbilt executed one that was almost identical in concept in an upset win over Georgia last year in Nashville. That one differed only in that the holder handed off to the kicker on the play, which also was designed to go off-tackle right.
Take a look at the two plays …
Vandy fake, 2013:
Florida fake, 2014: