The mood entering Georgia week was confident and focused. Recency bias made it seem like Florida had the chance. The bye week was enough time to rest and touch up in practice.
But the mood exiting out of it was quite the opposite.
The 24-17 loss in Jacksonville arguably was the most heart-wrenching one in the 2019 season. A chance at SEC East glory likely gone, and a second loss against a top-10 opponent in the books.
The losses to both LSU and Georgia put Florida’s status at the top in question. Each loss revealed imperfections of their own. LSU displayed a hard-fought high-scoring game that proved a bit much for Florida’s shorthanded defense. But Georgia outlined a culmination of holes in play-calling and mismatches for the Gators.
Are minor corrections the only thing necessary? Or is this team still in search of its identity?
Defining the loss
Simply put, not all is lost for the Gators.
There’s no doubt that Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart and his staff’s crafty coaching came out to remind the SEC who they really are, and that mission was efficiently accomplished. Quarterback Jake Fromm’s finesse tied to his dynamic offensive line carried the Bulldogs over the Florida defense. Flashy plays excluded, but it worked. The junior quarterback made 20-out-of-30 completions for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
His partner in crime was found in wide receiver Lawrence Cager, who recorded a season-high 132 yards off of seven receptions and a touchdown. Cager’s agility served him well; so much so, it altered the momentum of the entire game. A controversial completion call in the second quarter off of a Cager catch steered Georgia in the path of its first touchdown. In what appeared to be an incomplete catch, replay review said otherwise and upheld the original call.
From then on, Georgia comfortably drove itself down the right path. Specifically, the Gators’ defense misfired on crucial third-down opportunities, allowing Georgia to squeeze in more time of possession. On its own offensive side, Florida struggled in third down conversions, only going 2 of 9 in that department, squandering a few red zone scoring opportunities in the process. A lone second-quarter field goal was Florida’s only accomplishment through three quarters of play.
Trask eventually found some late-game energy, dishing two touchdowns to Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain in the fourth quarter. Though on paper it was a little too late, it’s a telling sign that the Gators were able to muster up two big scores and they didn’t quit.
The red shirt junior quarterback liked what he saw, but acknowledged the lengthy amount of time the touchdowns took to happen.
Florida coach Dan Mullen and Kyle Trask each used the word “character” to describe the test the final three games would bring.
It’s a wake-up call to toughen up. The Gators have lost the privilege of controlling their own destiny for a bid at the SEC Championship. The only solution is to sort out these errors before Vanderbilt.
Mullen’s message to his team was only to look ahead to the final three.
Florida’s final three regular-season opponents aren’t top-tier teams. But they’re still enough for the Gators to cement their place in the top-10. Vanderbilt and Missouri will round out the SEC slate, while the annual FSU meetup brings about state rivalry tensions.
There’s still plenty in the tank for the 2019 Gators, who remain a top-10 caliber team. But it’s a matter of how this elite team responds that will speak to just how suited they are to stay there.