There would be no redemption.
Instead, a restoration is nearly complete.
Florida’s Cinderella season continued on a gorgeous Halloween afternoon, as the No. 11 Gators pummeled Georgia 27-3 at EverBank Field and moved one step closer to a trip to Atlanta.
Behind a swarming defense and some nifty backyard magic from quarterback Treon Harris, UF dominated Georgia in a sloppy affair for the second season in a row.
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“That was painful,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said, smiling. “But the end result was awesome.”
The Gators made ugly look chic Saturday, forcing a season-high five turnovers, grinding out 258 yards on the ground and making just enough plays through the air to shatter its archrival’s Atlanta aspirations.
But Florida can keep dreaming.
In just three months, McElwain has erased the skid marks from the Will Muschamp era. The Gators (7-1, 5-1) now have a commanding lead in the SEC East and need just one conference win or a Vanderbilt loss to secure a berth in the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2009. Coincidentally, UF hosts Vanderbilt on Homecoming on Saturday.
“This is a good football team we have,” McElwain said, whose mantra has been “restore the order” of returning UF to an SEC heavyweight. “Our guys believe. And they care.”
When asked if he anticipated Florida competing for a championship this season, McElwain bluntly stated, “Yea.”
“I did,” he said. “I don’t expect to lose. We should never go into an event thinking we should come in second.”
The Gators certainly didn’t waste an opportunities Saturday.
Treon made some plays when he had to. At the end of the day, the guy is 2-0 in this ballgame, and that means something.
UF coach Jim McElwain, on QB Treon Harris
Their ground game finally awoke (Kelvin Taylor rushed for 121 yards and two scores) and their defense exposed Georgia’s junior quarterback Faton Bauta, who made his first career start.
Mark Richt’s bold move backfired, as the former Dywer High standout couldn’t jump-start the Bulldogs’ anemic attack.
Without All-American tailback Nick Chubb, the Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3) were mostly a disaster on offense, failing to score a touchdown for the second game in a row.
They gained just 223 yards, and Bauta tossed four interceptions, including a backbreaking pick in the end zone early in the fourth quarter that could have cut Georgia’s deficit to 10 points.
Florida’s defense was relentless, as Jon Bullard was unblockable, while linebackers Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison were tackling machines. Its heralded secondary were ballhawks, too.
“It should’ve been a shutout,” Bullard said.
It nearly was.
Georgia scored its lone points on a third-quarter field goal after Florida committed its first turnover in 17 quarters.
The Gators’ offense spun its wheels at times, too, and for a while the game became the World’s Largest Outdoor Punt Party.
But eventually Florida found its footing and scored 20 points off turnovers.
UF’s first touchdown was a gift, as Georgia’s Reggie Davis muffed a punt into the end zone.
Later, Vernon Hargreaves III returned an interception to the 5-yard line and set up another short score.
The Gators’ lone explosive play in the first half was a busted play off a scramble drill, as Harris rolled left and found freshman wideout Antonio Callaway for 66 yards down the left sideline.
A year after beating UGA throwing just six passes, Harris threw as many in the first quarter — only they were usually off target.
But after nine consecutive incompletions he flicked a perfect bomb to Callaway.
“He actually ended up taking a route and working a scramble drill with it,” McElwain said. “Treon’s done that couple times. It was a heck of a play by ‘Tone.’ Just two guys hooking up.”
The former Miami Booker T. Washington stars have developed quite a connection, as Callaway hauled in three passes for 110 yards to become the first true freshman in school history with three 100-yard games.
Harris finished the day just 8 of 19 for 155 yards, but he converted several third downs with his legs (39 rushing yards).
“Treon made some plays when he had to,” McElwain said. “At the end of the day, the guy is 2-0 in this ballgame, and that means something.”