JACKSONVILLE — Aaron Murray's return to his home state didn't end as he had hoped, but the former Plant standout walked off EverBank Field Saturday afternoon having had the best outing of his young career.
Murray began the game with an interception on the Bulldogs' first play, but eventually rallied his team from a 14-point first-half deficit, going 7-of-11 for 86 yards in the third quarter and leading Georgia to 24 points on four consecutive drives in the second half.
"It was definitely not the way you want to start off a game, and it was not the way I envisioned it, but you just have to bounce back," said Murray who was 18-of-37 for a career-high 313 yards and three touchdowns, but also had three interceptions. "In the second half, we did a tremendous job of bouncing back and regrouping. I thought I had a tremendous second half offensively."
Two of Murray's turnovers (fumble, INT) led to 14 points for the Gators, but his most critical might have been the interception on the Bulldogs' lone drive in overtime.
"I was just trying to get the ball to A.J. (Green) and I threw it behind him a little bit," said Murray, a redshirt freshman. "You've got to be accurate when you play this team. They have tremendous athletes. You've got to put it on the money and if you don't they are going to tip it away."
Tampa native Orson Charles also had a stellar game. The tight end was Georgia's leading receiver with six catches for 108 yards and one touchdown — a 29-yard reception to tie the score at 24 with 9:01 remaining in regulation.
"After I scored, I thought we were going to win the game," said Charles, also a Plant alumnus. "The interception was heartbreaking, but I still had faith in the defense. It doesn't matter (how well he played) because we lost."
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: On the 30th anniversary of the famed Lindsay Scott 92-yard catch and run to defeat the Gators 26-21 in 1980, Gator S Will Hill nearly put himself into Florida-Georgia folklore. Hill intercepted Murray at the 7-yard line, then raced to the 4 where he stepped out of bounds before going in to the end zone. Briefly, the Gators thought they had won the game on that play.
"I thought he was in," S Ahmad Black said.
So did Hill, who has been battling a shoulder injury and a cold all week and had to receive oxygen after the run.
"I had like 400 pounds land on me at the end and I really couldn't breathe," said Hill, who had two interceptions in the game. "I thought I was in. I thought the game was over."
RARE COMPANY: Chas Henry's 37-yarder was the first walkoff field goal for the Gators since Tampa native Arden Czyzewski's 41-yard field goal in 1989 to defeat LSU 16-13.
BACK TO FORM: Florida's defense opened the year grabbing an interception in its first four games, then struggled to get turnovers in the past several games. On Saturday, the Gators pulled in three interceptions and also forced one fumble. Florida has 16 interceptions in eight games this season, and has now snagged an interception in 30 of its past 36 games. On the season, seven Gators have tallied INTs.
Contact Antonya English at email@example.com. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.