An ugly start. An ugly finish. And pretty much all ugly in between, the Florida Gators (7-2, 4-2 SEC) came out flatter than a 24-hour glass of Coca Cola against their arch-rival Georgia Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 SEC) Saturday in Jacksonville.
Coaching miscues were rampant
From start to finish, Florida's issues stemmed from a coaching perspective.
Blown coverages led to both of Florida's touchdowns. Head coach Dan Mullen blew two timeouts on the first drive of the game, and a third came on a key drive in the fourth quarter, due to miscommunications between the wide receivers, personnel issues and formational mishaps. Mullen was clearly frustrated by the positional coaching of the team, which led to him blowing up on wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales following the third wasted timeout.
Defensively, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham primarily rotated cornerback Trey Dean III and defensive end Jeremiah Moon at STAR, which led to the 6'6", 230-pound DE to man-cover receivers up the seam and deep down the boundary. Both of those throws were fortunately broken up by safeties Shawn Davis and Jeawon Taylor, but Moon was beaten on both as expected when you play a defensive end in deep coverage.
That's simply irresponsible in the most important game of your season.
Freddie Swain is the only reason Florida was in the game
The game felt like it was over late in the third quarter, but wide receiver Freddie Swain kept Florida's hopes of pulling off a comeback alive.
Swain had four receptions for 40 yards on Florida's 80-yard scoring drive down 16-3. His contributions set up a 23-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Kyle Trask to Van Jefferson with 13:51 left in the contest.
On Florida's final drive, Swain accumulated 28 yards and a touchdown on three receptions to make it a one-score game. However, Florida ran 17 plays on the six-minute, 50-second drive—effectively running itself out of time to continue the comeback.
Props to Swain for his effort—without his late emergence, Florida doesn't break double digits offensively.
On a positive note, Zuniga came out firing off the edge... when he played there
Jabari Zuniga returned to the field against Georgia after suffering from a nagging ankle injury, and came out firing to start.
Recording a quarterback pressure and 1.5 tackles for loss on the team's first defensive drive, it was as if Zuniga hadn't missed a snap off the edge all season. He was highly energized and the defense fed off of his energy.
Then Zuniga appeared to tweak his ankle at the end of the first quarter, and was used in a rotation from that point on. I'd assume it was to prevent twisting his ankle through bending moves off of the edge, but Zuniga primarily lined up at 3-technique defensive tackle through the rest of the game, and became far less productive.
It didn't lose Florida the game, but SEC officiating is a joke
I'm not one to blame referees for a team's win or loss, but the officiating that took place at TIAA Bank Field on Saturday was an absolute joke.
As for Florida, the referees missed holding calls against Georgia consistently which surely led to the Gators' lack of pressure on quarterback Jake Fromm during the game. A clear incompletion on a pass from Fromm to Lawrence Cager, which could be seen on video by viewers everywhere, was ruled complete even after a review. A ridiculous pass interference was called on cornerback C.J. Henderson near the boundary, when the refs kept the laundry in their pocket when Georgia committed a far more obvious penalty of the same sort against Kyle Pitts on fourth down.
I pity whoever runs the SEC Officiating Twitter handle
This is not a playoff team
It's clear now with a 7-2 record, but the Gators are far from the potential playoff team that fans and analysts alike saw throughout the season prior to Saturday.
Florida's biggest strengths were weaknesses against Georgia. The typically pressure-heavy defense failed to create any disruption for Fromm, which led to him taking advantage of blown coverages. Dan Mullen and Co. have been consistently praised for the wonders they've performed as a coaching staff this year. Yet this week, the staff flopped.
Choking in big games separates the good teams from the great teams. Great teams make the College Football Playoff.
With the number two in their loss column, the Florida Gators are pretty much out of playoff contention. The Gators, in year two of the Dan Mullen era, will be labeled as a good team, but not great.