Florida vs. Georgia score, takeaways: Gators’ problems clear as day in loss to No. 1 Dawgs

By OnlyGators.com Staff
October 29, 2022
Florida vs. Georgia score, takeaways: Gators’ problems clear as day in loss to No. 1 Dawgs

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

If there is any way in which a 22-point loss to a rival can be a positive, try this on for size: Following a 42-20 loss to the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the Florida Gators’ deficiencies have never been more obvious. Florida head coach Billy Napier even admitted as much after the game.

“Certainly we learned a lot about what we need to do to compete with a program like that,” he said.

The Gators were bludgeoned in the first half, taking a 28-3 deficit into the break. A rousing third quarter in which Florida outscored Georgia 17-7 — the Dawgs allowed their first touchdowns in the period all season — provided some hope, but the reigning national champions scored the final 14 points to ultimately cruise to victory.

“We challenged them at halftime, and they certainly responded the right way,” Napier said. He later added: “Today might have been a turning point to some degree relative to … what is really in there. What is in your heart, your soul, between your ears?”

The win for Georgia was its fifth in the last six meetings with Florida; four of those have come by double digits. The Gators are now just 4-8 against the Dawgs since the departure of Urban Meyer, while UGA is 5-2 since hiring head coach Kirby Smart, who took the program to its first national title since 1980 last season.

Florida now sits 4-4 on the season and 1-4 in SEC play, its worst start to a conference slate since it went 0-5 in 1979 as part of a 0-10-1 season. All four of the Gators’ losses have come to opponents currently ranked in the AP Top 25 with no such teams remaining on their schedule the rest of the way.

Let’s take a look at what went down in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and detail the aforementioned deficiencies Florida is facing now two-thirds of the way through the 2022 season.

Retooling needed for the SEC

There’s no questioning Napier’s success in the Sun Belt at Louisiana. And through nine weeks of his first season at UF, it’s clear his process and recruiting acumen is helping the program take strides forward. Still, much of what Napier does on a game-to-game basis — decisions that worked at a lower level of football — is clearly not passing muster in the SEC.

Most notable among these questionable calls are how Napier has handled situations in which Florida has the ball with around 2 minutes left in the first half. Rather than play aggressively to put points on the board, particularly knowing his team is struggling defensively, Napier has played extremely conservative without considering the consequences.

Two weeks ago, UF trailed by seven with LSU getting the ball back after halftime. Against the Dawgs on Saturday, the Gators were in an 18-point hole and set to receive the ball after the break; an opportunity for consecutive scores could have been created. Instead, across both situations, Napier chose not to attack. Against LSU, it was by running out the clock. This week, it was a factor of his play calling. Smart noticed this and decided to call timeouts to get the ball back. When he did, Georgia scored another touchdown before half, making it a four-score game.

Beyond the lack of aggressiveness at the end of first halves, Napier has displayed a penchant for operating the same way on third downs. Far too often is he happy to play four-down ball, even in situations where the Gators are down multiple scores. If a team is facing third-and-6 or third-and-8, why run to create a short fourth down when you can potentially throw it twice if planning to go for it anyway?

Speaking of third-down play calling, it just one of numerous reasons why …

Florida needs an offensive coordinator

Napier being the head coach, quarterbacks coach and offensive play caller worked just fine for the Ragin’ Cajuns, but it’s far too much to put on an SEC coach. Just ask Gus Malzahn (formerly at Auburn) and Jimbo Fisher (currently drowning at Texas A&M). Beyond the immense responsibility filling those roles, Napier’s offensive system is simply not modern enough to compete in the SEC — particularly given the talent disparity currently putting Florida behind the sticks before kickoff even occurs.

There are far too many horizontal plays being called despite the Gators not having a bevy of quick-twitch playmakers. And the plays that are called display a significant lack of creativity, such as that shown by the Dawgs on Saturday. It does not appear as if a wheel route is even in Napier’s playbook, and the only way Florida seems to get players the ball in space is with dreaded screen passes.

Granted, sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson has seemingly been dealing with a variety of injuries all season — including one suffered on his first play Saturday — but an unwillingness to call designed runs for AR is costing the Gators every week. When he flashes that ability, the offense runs much smoother as defenses must adjust with a spy; against the Dawgs, he didn’t take off on such a play until the third quarter, a period in which Florida outscored Georgia 17-7 largely because UGA was off balance defensively.

And then those aforementioned third-and-long runs. Woof. In the second quarter, Napier ran an inside counter on third-and-12 during the first potential scoring drive of the game with the Gators already trailing 21-0. Instead of Florida having the possibility to convert and continue driving, a bigger score was conceded with UF settling for a 52-yard field goal to make a three-score game … a three-score game.

Even worse were two such situations that occurred in the second half, neither of which made much sense. The Gators had a short field after a fumble recovery in the third quarter while trailing by 18. Faced with third-and-8 at the Georgia 10, Napier called a run up the middle that went for no gain; Florida did not go on fourth down and settled for a 26-yard field goal. The Dawgs immediately took advantage with a touchdown drive to go up 35-20.

On the next series at the start of the fourth quarter, the Gators were faced with third-and-7 near midfield. Napier again ran inside for a 1-yard gain, and Richardson threw incomplete on fourth-and-6. Georgia took advantage of the short field with an immediate touchdown drive to lead 42-20, putting the game away with 11:14 left.

It’s not that Florida should never run on third downs, but Napier failed to understand the situation in both cases, choosing to play four-down football rather than try to simply convert third downs. The Gators entered the game averaging a nation-best 6.4 yards per carry, but the Dawgs were the No. 4 rushing defense in the nation and were holding Florida to less than 3 yards per rush through three quarters. UF did break a couple decent runs, but they were few and far between.

Knowing that and having seen Richardson complete some key passes — and make some big gains with his legs — in the second half, why not put the ball in his hands on both occasions? The Gators were attempting a monumental comeback, not holding onto a lead or trying to keep a game close and mistake-free. Napier needs to do better in these situations, and having someone with an offensive coordinator title who is not an offensive line coach by trade (Rob Sale) is necessary. Florida already went through this with Steve Addazio.

Bright spots for the defense

It may be a bit out there to praise a Gators defense that gave up 42 points and 555 yards, but anyone watching closely was able to ascertain that this unit had improved markedly coming off the bye week. Yes, it is still massively flawed, but only so much can be adjusted in the middle of a season.

Florida entered ranked 130th out of 131 teams nationally in third-down defense, and while Georgia did convert 6 of 12 such opportunities, only one of them was from a long distance (and it was irrelevant due to a penalty that would have been called if not converted). The Gators consistently got off the field in third-and-long scenarios and only allowed 14 points in the second half, though the Dawgs did run clock late in the fourth quarter.

Beyond that, Florida attacked the ball with two interceptions and a forced fumble. Senior linebacker Amari Burney was exceptional with a forced fumble and big-time interception to fuel UF’s third-quarter comeback. Yes, he did struggled in covering Georgia star tight end Brock Bowers, who posted a career-high 154 yards and a touchdown, but that is hardly a black mark on Burney given Bowers is literally the best player at his position this season.

Junior safety Jadarrius Perkins literally stole a reception away from the Dawgs to start the second quarter for the third turnover, and the Gators were in position for two more interceptions, one of which was straight up dropped by sophomore S Rashad Torrence II, while another led to a tip-drill 73-yard touchdown for Bowers. (More on that in a moment.)

Where the Florida defense truly struggled was the first quarter as it allowed consecutive eight-play touchdown drives that put it in a 14-0 hole. If it had just started stronger — and if that Bowers play had fallen differently — this would have been an entirely different game. Still, at the end of the day, the Gators lost by 22 — and that’s despite forcing three turnovers. The defense must to be better, but we already knew that.

Luck is a skill, and the Gators don’t have it

Whether an individual or a team, one is ideally supposed to make their own luck. But there’s no question that Florida did not have luck on its side against Georgia. Between one notable play and a bevy of officiating calls that were truly confounding, a lot of bounces and decisions simply did not go the Gators’ way, many of which directly affected the outcome of the game.

First, the play: Bowers’ 73-yard touchdown. On a perfectly covered wheel route early in the second quarter, Dawgs QB Stetson Bennett’s pass careened off Burney’s right hand, helmet and left hand. It then bounced off Bowers’ left hand as he turned his entire body around to find the ball right in front of him; he hauled it in and raced to the end zone with no other defender in sight. This put Georgia ahead 21-0.

Now, the officiating calls. It started laughable and ended maddening. Before halftime, after Napier helped give the Dawgs an extra possession, a flag was thrown as Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey hauled in a 30-yard pass. Given McConkey had pushed off Florida sophomore cornerback Jason Marshall Jr., the Gators were expecting offensive pass interference, which would have led to an exceedingly long third down and likely punt. Instead, referees somehow called defensive pass interference on Marshall, and the Dawgs pushed their lead to 28-3 two plays later.

Torrence was called for unnecessary roughness by throwing a block on an interception return in the third quarter; while questionable, it was not the most objectionable decision. However, with Georgia facing second-and-19 and Florida expecting the ball back late, Marshall got called for holding on a pass in which there was no evidence he had committed such an infraction.

None of these situations, individually or together, would have changed the outcome of the game. Still, for the Gators to be on the wrong side of all of them is exceedingly unfortunate, and this contest likely would have been far closer if even a couple of them went Florida’s way.

Offensive one-offs

Richardson completed 18 of 37 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown in a turnover-free game. Forced to pass more frequently amid the Gators’ deficit and ineffective rushing game, his deficiencies in the pocket became as obvious as ever. He did flash his potential and high ceiling with a few tremendous throws in the second half — including a perfectly thrown 78-yard touchdown to sophomore WR Xzavier Henderson — but he never seemed to find a level of consistency in the game.

Richardson was hit in the hip/thigh area on his first play of the game and seemed tentative from there. Late in the fourth quarter, he was seen rubbing his kneecap. For those who claim AR is “made of glass,” please pay closer attention to some of the hits he is taking this season. In the first half of the campaign, there were numerous helmet shots delivered to his knee that went uncalled for unnecessary roughness. The aforementioned hit Saturday could have been flagged as well given Richardson was clearly crossing the sideline when he was tagged. (AR did draw a roughness penalty in the third quarter when he was literally speared by a defender after a whistle from a timeout call.)

Florida’s offensive line, which had made tremendous strides this season, was dominated by a stronger, more talented Georgia defensive front. Richardson barely had any time in the pocket, and the running backs barely had any time to make a first move after being handed the ball. UF rushers averaged 2.9 yards per carry with freshman Trevor Etienne (11 carries, 53 yards, touchdown) the only such player who had any success on the ground.

Odds and ends

Florida is now 44-54-2 all-time against Georgia, though the Gators hold a 22-11 edge since 1990 … UF is now 8-9 in the last 17 games and 41-48-1 all-time in Jacksonville … this was the 100th all-time Florida-Georgia game and 90th such meeting in Jacksonville … UGA has now won five of the last six and seven of the last 12 in the series with an average margin of victory of 22 points … the Gators are 2-5 against top five teams, 5-8 against top 10 teams since 2018 and 1-3 against AP Top 25 teams this season … Florida has scored in 431 consecutive games, an NCAA record

What it means

The Gators entered as a 23.5-point underdog and covered the largest spread in rivalry history. That’s not a win, but it is an indication of what was expected from this team on Saturday. Florida played both better and worse than expected, but more importantly, its deficiencies were exposed. And that matters for the remainder of the season given every game left on the schedule is winnable. A reminder once again: All of the Gators’ losses have come to teams that are currently ranked. Florida being 1-4 in SEC play with losses to every rival it has played is tough to swallow in Year 1 under a new coach, but the circumstances of those defeats cannot be ignored.

No one can predict whether Napier is the right coach to turn the Gators around; however, he was never going to do it in Year 1. Most predicted a 9-3 or 8-4 record for Florida this season, and while latter is achievable, it’s unlikely. This is a program that went 2-5 over its final seven games last season with one of those victories coming after allowing 52 points to Samford.

Napier went 7-7 in Year 1 at Louisiana and 33-5 over his next three seasons. Though, granted, an absurd comparison: Nick Saban went 7-6 in Year 1 at Alabama, and he’s since led the Crimson Tide to six national championships. Let’s see what Napier does in more winnable games over the final third of the season.

What’s next?

Florida will play three of its last four games away from home starting with a visit to Texas A&M for the second time in three years. The Gators are 1-2 against the Aggies since they joined the SEC in 2012 with consecutive losses to head coach Jimbo Fisher. The game will kick at noon ET. Texas A&M is likely Florida’s toughest remaining test this season given its defense talent and home environment.

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