Games like Saturday’s make Georgia fans wonder if the Bulldogs will ever beat Florida again.
The Gators went into Saturday in their most vulnerable state in years with a sputtering offense and porous defense. The Gators’ confidence was at a low ebb after three straight losses, while Georgia’s was at a season high after three straight wins.
But mistakes, mostly self-inflicted, paved the way to Florida’s 34-31 overtime win on Saturday at EverBank Field.
It was the Gators’ 18th victory in the last 21 meetings and Georgia coach Mark Richt has lost eight of his 10 attempts against the Gators.
Saturday’s game had a feel of inevitability to it. Georgia turned the ball over on its first offensive snap and from that point, it was a waiting game for either Florida to drop the hammer or for Georgia to trip on its own feet, whichever came first.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray played like a freshman in the biggest game of his career to date. He played poorly in the first half, spectacularly in the second half and an overtime gaffe pounded home the final nail on the Bulldogs’ coffin.
Murray’s second half was impressive. He played with a sense of urgency. He was quick and accurate and led the Bulldogs back from a two-touchdown deficit to send the game to overtime.
Murray completed 13 of 23 second-half passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions until overtime.
Whatever jitters the redshirt freshman from Tampa, Fla., had stayed in the locker room after halftime. He led Georgia on a second-half offensive blitz that brought the Bulldogs back from a 14-point halftime hole.
His finest moment came on the 15-yard touchdown pass through three defenders to A.J. Green. The touchdown converted a third-and-goal from the Gators’ 15-yard line and tied the game 31-31 with 4:36 left in the game.
Murray might have played sharp in the second half, but in the first half he was as scatter-gunned as Elmer Fudd.
Murray hit 5 of 14 passes (36 percent) for 123 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Murray, making his first career start against Florida, looked nervous at the start.
He missed all five of his first-quarter passes, including an interception on his first snap. He went on to add another interception and lost a fumble on a sack later in the first half as Georgia dug itself a 21-7 hole.
Georgia could not have ended the game in a more dreadful fashion. The only bright spot was Tavarres King’s touchdown-saving pursuit of Will Hill on an interception return in overtime.
King hustled the lenghth of the field and knocked Hill out of bounds at the 4-yard line to keep the Bulldogs alive.
Georgia seemed to have most of the advantages as overtime began. It had overcome a 14-point deficit to tie the game. It had a Lou Groza Award finalist in Blair Walsh, and Florida had a converted punter serving as place-kicker in Henry.
Georgia got the ball first and promptly threw an incomplete pass into the end zone and picked up a yard on a dive. Then, Murray made his last mistake of the game, an interception that Hill nearly returned for a game-ending touchdown.
King’s tackle saved Georgia for the time being. Florida played for a safe field goal that Chas Henry nailed and sent the Bulldogs home in defeat for the third straight season.
Georgia has lost 18 of the last 21 meetings against Florida. Mark Richt owns two of those victories but he also has lost eight of the last 10. Saturday’s game wasn’t a blowout like the two previous encounters. But the end result was familiar and Richt gave an abrupt answer when asked what his program has to do to beat Florida.
"We’ve got to win games like this, but we didn’t do it," Richt said. "We’ll be back."
Georgia hopes to heal up its bruised ego against FBS Championship Subdivision Idaho State at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
• Roger Clarkson is a sports writer for the Banner-Herald. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.