GAINESVILLE -- Florida, in a cascading free-fall, has officially hit rock bottom. The Gators — now losers of six in a row — dropped a game Saturday afternoon in The Swamp to a Football Championship Subdivision team they paid $550,000 just to show up, that didn’t complete a pass, missed two extra points and was minus-2 in the turnover margin.
Georgia Southern, winless in 20 tries against FBS foes, knocked off Florida 26-20, formally handing UF its first losing season since 1979 and ending all bowl eligibility chatter.
It’s grim, Florida.
“An embarrassment,” said coach Will Muschamp, now 22-15 at Florida; one more loss and one less win than embattled former Gators coach Ron Zook.
Said right guard Jon Halapio: “The morale on this team is at an all-time low. We have a lack of leadership. We just really need to tighten up as a team.”
The Gators, now 4-7 and 28-point favorites entering Saturday’s contest, actually took a 10-0 lead, but the Eagles clawed back into the game with several long runs.
Georgia Southern (7-4) sprinted 66 yards on the opening play of the third quarter en route to a 13-0 period and a 20-10 lead.
UF was utterly confused against Georgia Southern’s dynamic triple-option attack.
"They bleed you to death," Muschamp said. "This is what they do for a living. It's hard to defend them. The way you defend these teams is you change the scoreboard on the other side and you get them out of their rhythm and you create negative plays and you get them behind the down and distance. We were never able to do that."
Georgia Southern rushed for 429 yards — the fourth-most yards on the ground UF has surrendered in school history — as four players gained at least 45 yards.
Eagles quarterback Kevin Ellison rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, gashing Florida’s front with misdirection and several shifty moves. Running back Jerick McKinnon — listed on the roster as the team’s backup quarterback — rumbled for 125 yards and a score, too.
The Gators, No. 3 in the Southeastern Conference in run defense, couldn’t stop GSU’s dive, split-veer, reverse or pitch. They were hopeless all afternoon.
But the "shocking loss" was hardly all on the defense’s shoulders, as Florida’s offense was a disaster again too.
Quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, making his second consecutive start in place of Tyler Murphy (shoulder sprain), was shaky from the start. The redshirt freshman nearly threw three interceptions on his first five attempts before settling down and leading a furious fourth quarterback comeback.
Mornhinweg connected with senior wideout Solomon Patton for two touchdowns, including a 45-yard play late in the fourth quarter on a play-action pass where the quarterback was clobbered.
But ultimately it was too little too late.
"You’ve also got to change the scoreboard and we just struggled scoring points offensively. It’s been a week-in, week-out occurrence," Muschamp said. "It becomes infectious. It’s hard. When you give up 17 points, you hope you score 17. That’s hard right now."
Florida’s power running game, led by freshman Kelvin Taylor, dominated the first quarter before disappearing the rest of the afternoon. After tallying 54 yards on UF’s opening drive, Taylor rushed for just 38 yards the rest of the game. Taylor finished the day with 92 yards on 22 carries.
The Gators entered Saturday’s upset besieged by injuries, but so did Cinderella. Georgia Southern was without 19 players on a FCS-maximum 65 scholarship roster.
According to Muschamp, Florida’s talent disparity — even with 15 players missing the loss because of injuries or suspension — didn’t matter because of GSU’s prolific triple-option attack.
"That’s why a lot of these schools run it, because it takes talent out of the equation," Muschamp said. "A lot of talented guys don’t like having somebody at their knees every snap either."
Regardless, Florida was humiliated Saturday afternoon, losing to a FCS team for the first time in school history.
"At the end of the day, you take ownership with where we are. Nobody needs to point a finger right now. It’s time to look in the mirror," Muschamp said. "I’ve told them that several times this season. Regardless of situation and circumstances we need to produce better. That starts with me. So that’s what we’ll do."