JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Fourth-and-10 at the Georgia 40-yard line and 1:18 to go in first half. The Florida Gators trailed the Bulldogs by 17 points and already had squandered one red-zone scoring opportunity.
For UF coach Will Muschamp, it was a chance to make something positive happen in a first half chock full of negatives.
“If they had any timeouts, I probably would have kicked, but they didn’t,” Muschamp said. “I just thought we needed to call the game aggressively and let our players play aggressively.”
So the Gators went for it.
Tyler Murphy’s short completion to Quinton Dunbar across the middle might have gained five or six yards -- which would not have been enough anyway. Dunbar, though, tried to get fancy against the UGA defense and ended up losing three yards, allowing the Bulldogs to take over at their 43 with 1:07 to go.
Three Aaron Murray completions set up Marshall Morgan’s 32-yard field goal at the halftime horn.
Georgia won the game 23-20.
Did those three points prove to be the decisive ones of the game? Yes.
Did that specific sequence cost the Gators the game? Of course not.
There were 58 plays from scrimmage in the second half, plus some special-teams plays, any of which could have altered the outcome or turned the game in Florida’s favor; or into a Georgia blowout. A 47-yard field-goal attempt that came up short on the second half’s opening possession comes to mind relative to the former.
The Gators, as it turned out, made some plays, especially on defense, to score 17 unanswered points and draw within three points in the fourth quarter. And they had the ball with a chance to seize the lead.
Then came another big fourth down.
This time when Georgia had the ball.
The Bulldogs went for a fourth-and-1 from their own 39 and the UF defense smothered tailback Todd Gurley for no gain. Right about then, flags started fly. A bunch of them.
Officials ruled that UF linebacker Neiron Ball removed his helmet after the play while still on the field, a 15-yard penalty. In the play's aftermath, four more personal fouls were called, two on each team.
Ball didn't think he did anything wrong.
“My teammate hit me and it slid up my face,” Ball said afterward. “So I just took it off.”
The Gators still got the ball after the play, but instead of starting at the Georgia 39, they started at their own 46. And while UF managed to pick up one first down, thanks to a Georgia 12-man penalty, Florida’s next set of downs from the Bulldogs' 41 went minus-2 yards on a “wildcat” play on first down, incompletion on second, and 14-yard sack on third-and-12.
UF punted on fourth-and-26 with 8:17 to go -- and never got the ball back. Georgia ran the game’s final 15 plays and ran out the clock.
“Frustrating,” junior linebacker Mike Taylor said. “So frustrating words can’t even describe.”
A bunch of Gators could have said that about a bunch of plays Saturday at EverBank Field, but it pretty much summed up the whole day.