JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Even with a new quarterback, Georgia’s offensive woes followed the team to Jacksonville. And coach Mark Richt is well aware that they will create extra scrutiny.
The Bulldogs failed to score a touchdown for the second consecutive game, and the futility proved costly in a 27-3 loss to rival and 11th-ranked Florida on Saturday.
Georgia managed just 223 total yards, the program’s fewest in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” since gaining 220 in 1991. It also was Georgia’s worst point total against Florida since a 27-0 loss in 1984.
“We told them we have to be men in this situation,” Richt said. “We have to give credit where credit is due.”
Georgia hasn’t scored a touchdown in eight quarters — the Bulldogs beat Missouri 9-6 with three field goals two weeks ago — and has found the end zone just once in the last 2 1/2 games.
Florida (7-1, 5-1), meanwhile, scored three times in the first half to build what seemed like an insurmountable lead.
The victory left the Gators one conference win from clinching the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division, which is big part of coach Jim McElwain’s edict of “restoring the order” by getting them back to SEC prominence.
“I don’t expect to lose,” McElwain said. “We should never go into an event thinking we’re going to come in second. The one thing you learn real quickly in this business is there are no participation ribbons. It doesn’t matter who we play, we go in with a mindset that we’re going to put a plan to do whatever it takes to win the football game.”
The Gators can wrap up the East by beating Vanderbilt next week. If that happens, Florida would earn its first trip to Atlanta since Tim Tebow’s senior year in 2009.
Georgia has few, if any, mathematical chances of winning the East. The loss was nearly as ugly as that 28-point debacle at home to Alabama in early October and surely will turn up the heat on Richt.
“If you are a leader in any way, shape or form, you are going to be criticized, in good times and in bad times,” said Richt, who fell to 5-10 in the series. “That’s part of it. … Our jobs as head coaches are very, very public and very, very emotional because you have so many people who care so much about their program.”
Richt’s decision to change quarterbacks did nothing to spark a sputtering offense. Richt benched Greyson Lambert, who failed to throw a touchdown pass against Vanderbilt, Alabama and Missouri. But instead of turning to backup Brice Ramsey, Richt called on Faton Bauta to make his first career start.
“We felt like Faton performed well enough to get the nod, and that’s what we did,” Richt said.
The junior from West Palm Beach completed 15 of 33 passes for 154 yards, with four interceptions. He had even more passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
“You have to learn to take the positives away from it,” Bauta said. “You sit there and think you’re the worst player of all time, that’s not going to help. It’s not good. Obviously a bad start, but it’s a start.”
Bauta’s third interception came in the end zone, with Georgia trying to make it 20-10 in the fourth quarter.
The Gators put the game away on the ensuing possession, thanks to Jordan Scarlett’s 60-yard scamper and Kelvin Taylor’s 16-yard score. Taylor put an ankle-breaking move on cornerback Malkom Parrish before finding the end zone for the 10th time this season.
Making things tougher on Bauta, the Bulldogs managed just 69 yards rushing. Sony Michel carried 13 times for 45 yards.
“If we get one touchdown, we’ll be all right,” receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “We haven’t had any the last two weeks, so I think one will give us some motivation.”