Georgia got back to being Georgia in the second half of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Saturday, and that was more than enough to brush aside Florida, 36-17, and remain in the national title hunt.
The Bulldogs had two weeks to ponder an ugly loss at Louisiana State, two weeks to consider how their wiggle room in chasing a second consecutive playoff berth was gone. Then, on Saturday, they had a little more than a half of Florida hanging around. The Gators even snagged a 14-13 lead on the first possession of the third quarter.
And from there? Running back D’Andre Swift had six carries for 66 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Jake Fromm was 9 of 13 for 143 yards and two scores. The Bulldog defense surrendered just four more first downs and allowed the Gators to run just four more plays inside Georgia territory.
“Georgia got back to being Georgia” is as good a summary of the game as anything I could come up with. The Dawgs may not have been perfect — okay, they were far from perfect — but if this season has demonstrated anything, it’s that they have the recipe to play a winning hand against any conference foe not named Alabama: stick with a bruising running game, even if it doesn’t pay off in the early going, pop a few big plays and play bend but not break defense.
That’s exactly what they did to dispatch the Gators. By nineteen points. I’ll take that all day long.
On to the bullet points.
- Actually, the bruising running game did pay off in the short run. Georgia ran the ball effectively on its first series, and even if it did eventually sputter and result in a field goal, it forced Grantham to dial up run blitz after run blitz to slow down Holyfield and Swift. It took a little while for the Dawgs to adjust, but eventually they did make Florida’s defense pay for that.
- Swift still doesn’t look 100% to me, but, damned if he didn’t pull off two of his niftiest runs of the season. He’s not running at full speed, but his cutting ability is back and he used that to big success. Great time for the first 100-yard game of his career.
- Holyfield bore the brunt of Grantham’s scheming to clog the middle, but still managed over seventy yards on twenty tough carries. He was stout.
- I’m still trying to wrap my brain around watching four straight completions to Isaac Nauta. That did happen, right?
- Big catch by Charlie Woerner, too, but it’s worth noting that he’s found his legs again blocking.
- I heard some complaining about the offensive line after the game, largely because of the failure to punch it in from the one-yard line, but that aside, I thought the unit turned in a decent game. Fromm was only sacked once, on a linebacker blitz that came clean up the middle, but for most of the day, he had time to throw. The line may not have consistently overpowered the Gators defensive front on the run, but some of that was due to Grantham overloading the box with run blitzes. Where the line was most effective in response to that was cracking open running lanes that Swift in particular was good at exploiting, as he did on his touchdown run. (Gaillard really manned up on that play.) With the constant run blitzes, there was space on the second level when the backs reached it.
- Andrew Thomas played a really gutty game. Really gutty.
- Georgia may have found its big possession receiver in Jeremiah Holloman, who responded nicely in being awarded his first start.
- I don’t feel like I mention Riley Ridley enough, sometimes. He may be Georgia’s best route runner and he’s an excellent, consistent downfield blocker.
- I’ve already posted a couple of things about Fromm’s day, but he really did impress. We’ve talked about how the team needed to step up and play a full sixty minutes; well, Jake sure did.
- As the Post quote indicated, the defense finally took control of the game late, but, while the secondary wasn’t challenged much, the front seven had issues early on with Florida’s running game. The line didn’t do much to stuff the Gators’ offensive line, which meant the inside linebackers were often taking the brunt of bigger linemen getting to the second level and finishing. That was bad enough, but made worse by some subpar tackling. Jordan Scarlett broke what looked like five tackles on his run that set up Florida’s first touchdown.
- That wasn’t the only mechanical issue of concern. Early on, Georgia’s front seven struggled with contain. (Hey, there, Brendan Cox.) There were several plays were linemen and ILBs ran themselves out of position. Patrick had one nice tackle, but really seemed to struggle in that regard.
- Jordan Davis is going to be a player with a little time. I’m starting to feel that way also about Tae Crowder, who turned in an excellent second half.
- My favorite defensive play of the day was turned in by D’Andre Walker, who (I think) came in late, was still running to his position when the ball was snapped and was bailed out when Florida ran the play right to where his momentum was taking him. He didn’t miss his tackle.
- Speaking of which, I was a little surprised Florida didn’t do more with pace after seeing what LSU did with it to disrupt Georgia’s defense.
- Admittedly, Felipe Franks is far from an elite quarterback, but for the most part Georgia’s secondary did well limiting the Florida passing attack. (It didn’t hurt that Franks overthrew a wide open receiver on the first play of the game, a flea flicker that was Dan Mullen’s nifty tribute to the way Georgia opened last year’s Mississippi State game.)
- Reed was the defender on that play, along with Franks’ 36-yard scoring toss. Both times he appeared to be a step slow, probably because he was keeping an eye on the run.
- LeCounte bounced back to play a solid game. I just wish he had broken a split second sooner on that TD throw; he just missed tipping it.
- Everybody throws at Deandre Baker. Once.
- Tyson Campbell busts ass, although there’s certainly room for improvement. (That’s not a knock on a true freshman.) His pass interference call was one of the smarter penalties Georgia’s taken this year, though, as that was six if he lets it go.
- Tyrique McGhee turned in a solid game, although admittedly he was the recipient of one of the worst passes I’ve seen on his interception.
- Special teams were, once again, a mixed bag. Rodrigo was almost perfect on the day, but on the one kickoff it appeared he didn’t hit solidly, Florida got a big return on a play where Georgia’s downfield players appeared almost lackadaisical in coverage. Camarda started with a couple of weak punts, but, boy, did he recover with two big ones. Hardman turned in a few good returns.
- One underrated, but very smart play: Herrien’s decision to fair catch the pooched kickoff from the Florida 45.
- Chaney got some criticism and no doubt some of it was certainly merited. Playing Mongo ball on the one-yard line was an act of futile stubbornness, and for two reasons: one, it played right into Grantham’s natural tendency to sell out and, two, Georgia had done well in short yardage situations earlier in the game running out of its regular formations. Also, if they can’t do any better running the jet sweep, it’s time to junk it. Saturday marked another game where the defense appeared to be ready for it, so there’s something either in the formation or the personnel group that’s tipping things off.
- On the other hand, Chaney won the chess match with Grantham. The early success on the ground forced Florida to jigger things and while it took a couple of series to figure things out, Georgia, with the final possession of the first half, started finding the holes in the defense and continually exploited them for the rest of the game. Georgia scored 39 points, gained over 400 yards, won the time of possession battle (a bigger deal, since both teams wanted to dominate in the run game) and first downs. In my book, that’s a good day.
- Mel Tucker did what Mel Tucker wants to do with what he’s got. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I think Florida only managed one play over twenty yards on the day. Tucker made Florida work for everything it got and forced the Gators to execute in order to score. That’s a good bet with Franks’ shortcomings. Tucker was rewarded with three turnovers. I’ll take that, too.
- Kirby’s day wasn’t perfect, either — why not use one of the two timeouts available when Georgia stopped Florida and forced a punt with about a minute to go in the first half? — but it was certainly good enough. Unlike LSU, he took the points that were available. His call to punt the ball in the third quarter inside Florida territory led to some grumbling in the stands, but was vindicated with a perfect punt from Camarda and a forced turnover at the Florida one.
- More importantly, he had his team ready to bounce back after a disappointing loss, facing a ton of noise from the media and his own fan base. And they proved to be resilient. They answered Florida taking the lead in the third quarter by taking it right back. They could have deflated after failing to punch it in from the one. Instead, they forced the Gators to settle for a field goal in return and scored two touchdowns while not allowing Florida to cross midfield for the rest of the game.
In the end, it was Florida settling for the moral victory while Georgia left Jacksonville with the real thing.
The Dawgs beat a bitter rival by nineteen points and didn’t play their best. Which is why I’ll let Jake Fromm have the last word, seeing as he certainly earned it.
“Teams are getting better,” Georgia quarterback Fromm said Saturday night. “We still haven’t played our best football yet, either. We still have that in the back of our heads. When we play our best game, it’s going to be scary.”