Well, Georgia can’t blame this one on not having Todd Gurley.
Playing their third game without the star tailback, running the football on offense was the least of the Bulldogs’ problems. It was stopping the run that did in No. 11 Georgia as it fell — hard — 38-20 to SEC East rival Florida on Saturday at EverBank Field.
The Gators entered the game eighth in the SEC in rushing offense at 169.5 yards per game while the Bulldogs led the league at 265.9. But they ran roughshod over Georgia’s defense to the tune of 418 yards while attempting just six passes the whole game.
It was the second-most rushing yards Georgia has ever given up in a game. The Bulldogs allowed 430 to Auburn on Nov. 13, 1978.
“They physically whipped us,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That’s probably the best description that I can give you.”
It was the fifth-highest rushing output in Florida history. Matt Jones (25 carries, 192 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Kelvin Taylor (25-197-2) became the first Gator tailbacks to run for more than 100 yards each since Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey did it against Kentucky in 2011.
“Four hundred yards rushing, 27 passing, that’s not good,” Georgia senior defensive back Damian Swann said. “That’s not the team that we are. That’s not the team that we want to be. … It’s just, once you get in those types of games, once the momentum swings, it’s hard to get it back and we were never able to.”
The Gators (4-3, 3-3 SEC) were 11-point underdogs coming into the game and hadn’t beaten Georgia in the last three games of this storied 110-year-old series. Meanwhile, the heat had turned up considerably on Florida coach Will Muschamp, a UGA graduate who had never beaten his alma mater. But instead of losing big, the Gators won shot ahead by 24 points early in the fourth quarter and held off a late and largely meaningless charge from Georgia.
“You know, a lot of negativity and all of that, which is part of it,” Muschamp said. “I’m not complaining about it. But for the guys to pull together against a good team, a Top 10 team, and understand what’s at stake as far as our seasons’s concerned … I’m proud of them for that.”
The loss effectively kills the Bulldogs’ chances of playing their way into the first College Football Playoff. While Georgia (6-2, 4-2 SEC) can still win the East and make it to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, its doubtful they could make the Final Four even with the league title in hand.
“It hurts,” Richt said. “You lose, it hurts, period. But the opportunity you’ve lost makes it hurt even worse.”
Said senior quarterback Hutson Mason: “My dominating emotion is just upset. I knew it was going to be a tough game. By no means did I think Florida was going to roll out the red carpet for us. But I expected us to play better than that.”
The Gators entered the game eighth in the SEC in rushing offense at 169.5 while the Bulldogs led the league at 265.9. Freshman Nick Chubb had another productive day filling in for Gurley. He had his third straight 100-yard game with 156 yards on 21 carries and scored another touchdown.
But Chubb also fumbled the ball twice, losing one at the end of a 35-yard run in the third quarter. It was the Bulldogs’ first lost fumble since the first quarter of the first game of the season. Mason had a season-best 319 yards on 26-of-42 passing.
The game turned on a single play.
Georgia led 7-0 and had just missed on an opportunity to expand their advantage to 10 points via a field goal when the Gators lined up to attempt a 38-yard field goal of their own in the second quarter.
They never kicked it.
Florida holder Michael McNeeley — a seldom-used receiver slipped in to hold just for this one play — took the snap and ran through a thin opening at right tackle for a 21-yard touchdown. The point-after tied the game at 7-all with 8:25 to remaining in the second quarter.
“I know I wasn’t really expecting it,” said Swann, who was on the field for the play. “But that’s just how it goes. You always have to be on high-alert for a fake, but that type of fake, with the down and distance, I don’t really think they drew it up thinking they’d score a touchdown. They probably drew it up to get a first down maybe.”
It was the second time in the past two seasons the Bulldogs were victimized by a fake field goal. Vanderbilt also scored on off a fake on the way to upsetting Georgia in Nashville last year.
That play seemed to open the floodgates for Florida’s offense, which came into the game ranked as the third worst in the SEC. With freshman Treon Harris making his first start at quarterback, the Gators started to put together long, deliberate scoring drives. They entered the fourth quarter having held the ball more than 26 minutes to Georgia’s 18 and they finished the game with 28 consecutive runs on offense.
“I wouldn’t say it was a point of attack issue,” senior noseguard Mike thornton It was just guys not staying in their lanes and them bouncing it outside. They couldn’t run up the middle on us. They did one time the whole time. It was just execution.”