The Florida Gators started off strong against Georgia on Saturday, but everything went wrong after the opening drive in the 43-20 loss.
The Bulldogs settled for a field goal at first and then rattled off three straight touchdowns. Florida’s defense had no answer for Georgia. Carson Beck finished the day with more than 300 passing yards, Daijun Edwards averaged almost 6.0 yards per carry and Ladd McConkey carved up the Florida secondary for 135 receiving yards.
Receiver Eugene “Tre” Wilson II provided a spark for the Gators on offense, but he was limited after a strong first drive. Billy Napier stuck to his usual game plan of screens of short throws, but Kirby Smart’s defense figured things out eventually.
There’s usually more to learn from a loss than a win. Here’s what we took away from Week 9.
The offensive line didn't pass the test
Billy Napier noted that the offensive line would have to play well for Florida to put up a fight against Georgia, and the score should indicate just how well the unit played. Putting the low rushing totals aside, Graham Mertz was running for his life half of the game.
Georgia sacked Mertz four times and finished with eight tackled for loss. Perhaps the biggest play of the game came when Mertz lost a fumble that was stripped from his hand by a defender. After scoring, the Bulldogs took a 24-3 lead, eliminating whatever leftover momentum Florida had from the first drive.
It’s not fair to put an entire loss on one unit, especially when the team played poorly all around, but the spotlight was on the offensive line this week.
The defense didn't look great either
Even without Brock Bowers, Georgia’s passing game thrived against a porous Florida secondary. Ladd McConkey finished the night with six catches, 135 yards and a touchdown, and Dominic Lovett reeled in four receptions for 83 yards. Carson Beck ended the night wth 315 yards, two touchdowns and a 185.9 quarterback rating.
We’ll wait for PFF grades to come out before judging to harshly but the eye test isn’t good for the team’s top two corners, Jason Marshall Jr. and Jalen Kimber. McConkey ran around at will after the catch, and Georgia seemed to move the ball at will after being held to a kick on its first drive.
The front seven didn’t look great either, giving up 171 yards and three scores. In fairness, linebacker Shemar James was injured during warmups and battled through pain all game, but Daijun Edwards shouldn’t have been able to burst through the first level multiple times.
Some young guys shined
It wasn’t all bad. Some of the young guys really shined for Florida.
Eugene “Tre” Wilson III looks like an elite addition to this offense, and he’ll be a real weapon for the Gators over the three years. His 11 catches for 75 yards and a touchdown weren’t enough tonight, but there’s still a lot to like about his performance.
Treyaun Webb also looked pretty good toward the end. He got a touchdown called back after a review, which makes his final line of four rushed for 17 yards seem a bit underwhelming.
Both freshmen safeties, Jordan Castell and Bryce Thornton, finished with eight tackles. Only veteran edge Princely Umanmiemeln had more.
Florida needs a deep ball quarterback to take the next step
Graham Mertz is a fine game manager who will give Florida a chance to win games against the Tennessees and Kentuckys of the world, but the Gators probably need a true deep-threat arm to take the next step and beat Georgia.
With Mertz, Florida’s best shot is to keep throwing behind the line of scrimmage or within 10 yards. Letting Wilson and Pearsall make magic happen after the catch only works for a little bit against teams like Georgia, which possesses elite speed on both sides of the ball.
Mertz looked shaky once again on the few deep balls we did see from him. No one is asking him to play a game he isn’t capable of, but DJ Lagway is going to have to be able to chuck it deep.
Run the ball more?
The one way Florida’s offense works without Mertz throwing it deep is if the running game is dominant. The Gators only handed the ball of 25 times in this game, and Montrell Johnson Jr. looked really good after it was already too late.
This was supposed to be one of the most dominant running back tandems in school history, but Napier needs to give them the ball more. Perhaps it’s fear stemming from a weak offensive line, but neither of the team’s main backs getting to double-digit carried feels like Mullen-level malpractice.