The best play to summarize Florida’s performance against Georgia on Saturday didn’t have a big impact on the game’s outcome.
It came late in in the second quarter, and it looked innocent. Inconspicuous. But it said everything.
Quarterback Feleipe Franks dropped back to pass and found tight end Moral Stephens wide open on a slant route with 1:58 left in the half. He threw it, hitting him in the hands and in stride.
Stephens dropped it, fell and slid across the turf, where he laid for several seconds as Georgia’s defenders towered over him and gray skies painted Jacksonville’s EverBank Field in darkness.
“Anybody can throw a slant,” Florida safety Chauncey Gardner said earlier in the week about Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm.
Well, apparently not anybody. Florida (3-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) couldn’t on that play, and it couldn’t do anything else either in a 42-7 curb-stomping embarrassment of a loss to the No. 3 Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 SEC). It was UF’s worst defeat since falling to Nebraska by 38 in the 1995-96 Fiesta Bowl.
The Gators also barely avoided being shut out for the first time since 1988 — a college football record that now stands at 368 games.
“Obviously,” coach Jim McElwain said, “it didn’t turn out the way we wanted.”
Most of the questions fielded by McElwain following the loss, however, concerned his job security rather than what happened on the field.
Questions like, “Do you think you’ll be back next week?” and “Have you heard anything about your future?” were the norm.
McElwain basically said he didn’t know anything about his potential firing, but his tone was noticeably different than usual, like he was an emotional country singer rather than his usual salesman self. While he tends to avoid answering questions head-on, he did on Saturday.
“We all were brought here to win,” he said when asked about his two-plus years in Gainesville. “And we haven’t done it. My concern isn’t about my job. My concern is about these players and our staff.”
His players, meanwhile, were asked about his future but declined comment. They spoke about the game instead.
Franks finished 7 of 19 for 30 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
He was pulled in the fourth quarter for backup Malik Zaire, who was a little more effective.
He led Florida’s only scoring drive late in the game, with Mark Thompson finishing it with a running score.
The running game fared a bit better. Sophomore Lamical Perine led the way with 93 yards on 16 carries.
However, UF’s running game also lost the season’s best rusher — freshman Malik Davis — to an knee injury early in the game. McElwain didn’t clarify what his status is going forward.
“There are a lot of things we can improve on,” Franks said of the offense. “We definitely are not going to fold or bow our heads.”
If Florida’s offense was a busted semi-truck, Georgia’s was a humming sports car. The Bulldogs amassed 393 yards to Florida’s 249, led by American Heritage Plantation alum Sony Michel and his 137 rushing yards on six attempts.
It was Florida’s first loss to Georgia since 2013, but it was critical. The Gators are now mathematically eliminated from reaching a third consecutive SEC title game.
“We’ve won a few games,” McElwain said, “but we haven’t won enough. Haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life. That is this business, and I take full responsibility for all of it.”
That reality was clear by the level of fan interest at the end of the game.
The stands were largely empty on Florida’s sideline at the start of the fourth quarter.
Georgia’s side of the field, meanwhile, was undoubtedly more full. But it was also emptier than you might expect for a fan base that hadn’t beaten the rival Gators since 2013. Then again, they’d been celebrating since the game started.