Even with Brantley back, Florida loses again

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 29, 2011
Quarterback John Brantley's return was supposed to give Florida a psychological boost. It did, but it sure didn't last. Brantley's first game in nearly a month did little to prevent the Gators from making the same mistakes as they did in losses to Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Florida endured one of the worst second halves in school history and lost to Southeastern Conference rival Georgia 24-20 Saturday. Now, the program has its first four-game losing streak since 1988, a slide that certainly will taint coach Will Muschamp's first season in Gainesville. ''Obviously, I didn't do a very good job of getting our team ready,'' Muschamp said. The Gators (4-4, 2-4 SEC) had their chances. They scored on a fourth-and-19 play in the first quarter, had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, intercepted a pass on a ball that bounced off a running back's helmet and led 17-3 in the second quarter. Playing for the first time since badly spraining his right ankle against Alabama on Oct. 1, Brantley had some success early. He threw for 226 yards in first half - 72 of it coming on a screen pass to Jeff Demps on the opening play - but was mediocre at best the rest of the way. The Gators managed 32 yards in the second half, another paltry performance that showed how far the team has fallen since winning the 2008 national championship. ''We're not close,'' Muschamp said. ''We've got to build our numbers back. It's very difficult to run a power running game with who we have. I like the guys we've got, but it's just the bottom line when you look at some situations of where we are. It doesn't take anybody real educated to figure it out right now. Sometimes it does.'' Brantley completed 12 of 34 passes for 245 yards, with a touchdown. He was sacked six times and missed open receivers all over the field. Chris Rainey ran five times for 26 yards. Demps was a non-factor after his big catch and run. ''It's tough to deal with, but all we can do is continue to go out and show up every week and just give it our best,'' defensive tackle Jaye Howard said. If this is Florida's best, then the program might have further to go than many believe. The Gators committed 16 penalties for 106 yards, had two turnovers deep in their own territory, dropped passes early and often and got gouged on the ground for a fourth consecutive game. Nonetheless, Florida led 17-10 at the break thanks to Demps' kickoff return and a fourth-down call that was more surreal than savvy. The Gators had the ball at the Georgia 20-yard line midway through the first quarter, but a false start and a sack left them at the 31. With starting place-kicker Caleb Sturgis sidelined because of a leg injury, it seemed like an ideal spot for a punt. Florida could try to pin Georgia deep or, worst-case scenario, kick it into the end zone and put the Bulldogs on the 20. Instead, Florida's offense stayed on the field. Brantley avoided a sack, stepped up in the pocket and found Jordan Reed down the middle for a touchdown. The Gators made it 14-3 in the second quarter on Demps' long return. It was the latest special teams breakdown for the Bulldogs, who allowed a 96-yarder two weeks ago against Vanderbilt. Florida couldn't hold the lead, though. The Gators had two fumbles that gave Georgia short fields. And coach Mark Richt, quite possibly with his job on the line, didn't want to squander the opportunities. Richt went for it on a fourth-and-5 play at the Florida 20, and Aaron Murray found Michael Bennett for a touchdown just before halftime. He also went for it on fourth-and-6 at the Florida 14 in the third. Murray threw a jump ball to the corner, and Tavarres King came down with game-tying score. Florida followed with a 63-yard kickoff return, which led to a field goal and a 20-17 lead. It was short-lived, though. Georgia, which had scored first in every game this season, took its first lead on Richard Samuel's 4-yard run early in the fourth quarter. The defense did the rest, pressuring Brantley and minimizing Rainey and Demps. Brantley was just 2 of 14 for 19 yards in the second half. ''That second half, we've just got to be able to finish the game,'' Brantley said. ''We had our opportunities. Like I said, we've just got to be able to finish.''
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