Florida has struggled to finish games
Penalties, miscommunications have prevented Gators from mounting rallies
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Chris Rainey is getting tired of walking off a football field knowing his team had blown a chance to win a game.
It has happened three times in the last month, and Florida's redshirt senior running back is weary of seeing the Gators self-destruct over and over again.
The Gators (5-5) haven't been able to do that in the fourth quarter in losses to South Carolina, Auburn and Georgia. Florida has turned the ball over, committed a costly penalty, or botched a play to sabotage its chances of winning.
The latest example came against the Gamecocks, when a miscommunication cost the Gators 6 yards and an offside penalty extended a South Carolina drive that took up nearly five minutes and left them less than a minute to mount a potential game-winning drive.
The miscommunication was between Rainey and quarterback John Brantley, who changed the play at the line of scrimmage from a run to the left side of the formation to a run to the right side of the formation. After the snap, Rainey went left and Brantley turned to his right.
"It was an audible that no one really heard," Brantley said. "Things happen. We just have to move on to the next play."
The next play was a pass to Rainey that lost 5 yards, followed by an incomplete pass and a punt. South Carolina took possession with a 17-12 lead with 5:34 to play. Two plays later, South Carolina faced a third-and-2 at its own 28-yard line. If UF got a stop, there would be plenty of time remaining for a potential game-winning drive.
Except defensive tackle Dominique Easley jumped offside.
The Gators didn't get the ball back until 42 seconds remained.
As bad as those mistakes were, though, the Gators actually were better in the fourth quarter against South Carolina than they were against Auburn and Georgia.
Against Auburn, UF failed to convert on fourth down, committed another penalty on fourth down, and muffed a punt that the Tigers recovered.
On UF's next possession, the Gators lined up to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the UF 46, but guard Kyle Koehne moved before the snap, and the Gators were forced to punt.
Still, Florida had a chance to mount one more drive after forcing Auburn to go three-and-out, but Robert Clark muffed Steven Clark's punt, and Auburn recovered at the UF 47. The Tigers kicked a clinching field goal six plays later and won 17-6.
Four penalties cost the Gators the game against Georgia.
A pass interference penalty on Jaylen Watkins on third down kept a Georgia drive alive that ended with Richard Samuel scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a 3-yard run.
Jordan Reed was penalized for a false start on UF's next drive, and the Gators couldn't overcome the 5-yard loss and punted two plays later.
And the final gaffe came when Marcus Roberson was penalized for pass interference on Aaron Murray's third-down incompletion. The Bulldogs ran out the clock.
"We've had three ballgames [where] we had our opportunities," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "It comes down to turnovers [and] critical errors when you've got to make plays.
"We've got to execute in those situations, and that comes back on me. Got to do a better job coaching, better job in those critical downs, those critical situations."
At this point in the season, though, it's not likely the Gators will all of a sudden play mistake-free football. It's almost their identity now, because they did it even in their lone victory since September. Florida led Vanderbilt by 13 points entering the fourth quarter and gave up two touchdowns before eventually recovering an onside kick to secure a 26-21 victory. The Gators were helped by a pass interference penalty on De'Ante Saunders on a third-down incompletion that wasn't called -- otherwise they'd be on a six-game losing streak.
"Penalties, turnovers and all that stuff keeps killing us every time," Rainey said. "We've got to finish strong."
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.