Saturday, February 24, 2018
Colleges

Young offense hurts Florida Gators in loss to Georgia Bulldogs

JACKSONVILLE

They were having one of the unexpected seasons of their history. And they left it on the ground.

They all but had their hands around the SEC East title. And they threw it to the other guys.

They were the third-ranked team in the country, which is close enough to dream. And they gave it all away.

The Florida Gators turned over most of their possibilities Saturday, when they fumbled, flubbed and flopped throughout a 17-9 loss to Georgia. Their anemic offense, which had managed to do just enough on their way to a 7-0 start, imploded against the Bulldogs.

Perhaps it was bound to happen. For most of the season, the Gators offense has eternally been struggling uphill. It has not been dynamic, and it has not been explosive. Before this, however, it had been efficient.

What's that they say? Eventually that nagging cough will come back to haunt you. That's what happened with the Gators' offense Saturday. It is hard to consistently win games against Top 10 opponents when there is no deep passing threat, when the team struggles to establish the run, when the team cannot grip the football.

All along, that had been the concern with this Gators team. Against the Bulldogs, you could see why.

"Six turnovers," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Wow."

Muschamp could have shortened that by one letter. Perhaps he should have summed it up for Florida fans by simply saying: "Ow."

In particular, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel had a long afternoon. Over the season, Driskel has flashed star potential from time to time, but this was one of those long afternoons that is going to sting for a while. He fumbled on the game's first play, and the third, and the 16th. He threw interceptions on the 41st and 46th. Also, he was sacked five times.

"I made some critical mistakes," Driskel said. "That's what it comes down to."

Want an example? Go back to the final play of the first half, when the Gators trailed 7-6 and had second and goal on the Georgia 5. A field goal would have given Florida the lead. Instead, Driskel rolled to his right, then tried to throw across his body into the end zone and had the pass intercepted.

"A dumb mistake," he called it.

At this point, it would be easy to pin the disappointment of this defeat on Driskel. Young quarterbacks sometimes have days like this.

For Florida, however, the blame should be a little more widespread. After all, the Gators should be able to do more things on offense by their eighth game of the year, shouldn't they? They should be able to make a team pay for overloading the box the way the Bulldogs did. They should be able to make a defensive coordinator do harder work than simply slowing down running back Mike Gillislee.

"We have to play better around (Driskel)," Muschamp said. "We have to protect better. You can't put everything on Jeff Driskel. You've got to be able to run the ball and create vertical plays and stretch the ball out and not let people load the box."

Also, the Gators might think about changing up the play-calling every now and again. Consider: The Gators had 27 first downs Saturday, and they ran the ball on 19 of those. Struggling as much as they did, that means Driskel was in a lot of third-and-8s and third-and-10s. For the day, Florida threw for only 33 yards on first down (24 if you consider a 9-yard sack).

For all the frustrations, there is this: Florida wasn't the only team turning the ball over. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had three interceptions. Despite that, the Gators scored only two field goals off them. After one, the Gators drove only 6 yards. After another, 10 yards.

Eventually, Florida is going to have to figure out the passing game. Eventually, Driskel is going to claim big games such as this as his own.

Eventually, the Gators will have to learn not to leave its opportunities on the ground.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan. Follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton.

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