By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Sony Michel put third-ranked Georgia up big early and put Florida away late, scoring on two long runs in a 42-7 drubbing Saturday that might have been the final game for Gators coach Jim McElwain.
Michel finished with 137 yards rushing on just six carries and helped the Bulldogs remain unbeaten and in control in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
Nick Chubb also scored for the Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 SEC), who ended a three-game losing streak in “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” and started 8-0 for the first time since 2002.
Lift a glass to Georgia.
Pour one out for McElwain?
Florida (3-4, 3-3) started the day by responding to a tweet from a sports lawyer who said Florida and McElwain’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, have engaged in buyout negotiations and are “miles apart.”
Athletic director Scott Stricklin released a statement several hours before the game saying the buyout report was inaccurate.
“No one representing the University of Florida or our athletic department has had any conversations with Coach McElwain or his representatives regarding a buyout of his contract,” Stricklin said.
But Stricklin stopped short of giving McElwain a vote of confidence after one of the strangest weeks in program history.
McElwain created a firestorm Monday when he said Florida players and families received death threats amid the team’s struggles. Stricklin met with McElwain in hopes of gathering more information and helping alleviate any safety concerns. McElwain rebuffed their efforts, prompting a statement from the athletic department that essentially criticized McElwain for being uncooperative.
McElwain backtracked a bit Wednesday but stopped short of apologizing and again refused to provide details about the threats.
His reaction raised questions about his relationship with Stricklin and prompted speculation about whether he even wants to be at Florida any longer.
Here are the big questions: Would Florida attempt to fire McElwain with cause and avoid a $12.9 million buyout or are they ready to part ways regardless?
Florida’s performance against Georgia surely doesn’t bode well for McElwain’s job security.
The Bulldogs scored on their first three possessions and led 21-0 before the Gators picked up a first down. Georgia used three huge plays to build a three-touchdown lead.
Jake Fromm — the guy one Florida player openly questioned early in the week — found D’Andre Swift in the flat for a 39-yard gain that set up Chubbs’ 6-yard touchdown run. Dominick Sanders intercepted Feleipe Franks’ pass on the ensuing possession, and Fromm threw a perfect, 17-yard pass to Javon Wims in the corner of the end zone. Michel added his first of two scores, a 74-yarder midway through the second quarter.
Michel added 45-yarder in the third, and the rout was on.
The only questioned that remained — other than McElwain’s future — was whether Georgia would end Florida’s NCAA scoring record. The Gators haven’t been shut out since a 16-0 loss to Auburn in 1988. They scored with 2:42 remaining to extend the record to 368 games with points.
Georgia: The Bulldogs are clearly the best team in the East and look like they could make a run at top-ranked Alabama in the league title game.
Florida: The Gators are dealing with the kind of mess that only a coaching change can correct. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.
Georgia: Hosts South Carolina next Saturday. The Bulldogs could clinch the East next week, but only if Kentucky has loses to Tennessee later this Saturday.
Florida: Begins a two-game road stretch at Missouri. They play at South Carolina the following week.