JACKSONVILLE -- They didn’t quit. But it wasn’t enough.
Despite a wild and weird second-half comeback at EverBank Field, the Gators (4-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) ran out of gas after spotting Georgia 20 points en route to a 23-20 loss.
“I’m proud of our players and the effort, their intensity, their fight and their resolve to battle back,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “We dug ourselves too big a hole.”
The Gators, reeling from a brutally lackluster first half, managed to claw back in the second half and actually flipped the game’s momentum on a heady play by Leon Orr.
Florida’s junior defensive tackle scooped up a dropped lateral by Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch deep in Bulldogs territory and instantly kick-started a huge comeback.
Orr’s fumble recovery sparked a lifeless crowd, as the Gators — spearheaded by a suddenly super-charged defense — scored 17 unanswered points.
“That was a very heads-up play,” linebacker Michael Taylor said. “That really got the momentum going and really got us started on the sidelines.”
Said Georgia coach Mark Richt: “We were really controlling the game until that play. Then everything changed. They got adrenaline. They got juice.”
The Gators decisively won the third quarter — thanks to Orr’s fumble recovery and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy’s sack for a safety — and then stoned Bulldogs tailback Todd Gurley on a gimmicky fourth-and-1 direct snap early in the fourth quarter.
Gurley scored two touchdowns in three minutes to open the game, but the sophomore sensation lacked his usual explosiveness, and his limitations (ankle, dehydration) allowed UF to slowly catch its breath and eventually turn the game’s momentum.
Following Georgia’s failed fourth-down conversion on its own 39-yard line, Florida looked poised to at least drive for the game-tying field goal before the offense imploded with three consecutive plays for a loss.
Florida punted with 8:17 left in the fourth quarter and never saw the ball again.
Even with most of the momentum — and the split crowd swelling in Florida’s favor — the defense couldn’t get a stop when it needed it most at the end.
“We’ve got to be able to convert some third downs [defensively] and force a punt in that situation,” Muschamp said.
Georgia’s brilliantly efficient and methodical 15-play drive — with four third-down conversions against the nation’s best third-down defense — ultimately nullified UF’s spirited comeback. But if not for Orr’s heads-up play, the game might never have been close.