One playoff game down for Georgia. Essentially.
Georgia got its first test against a formidable SEC opponent and aced it. Saturday’s edition of the rivalry with Florida essentially served as a SEC East championship game. Big stage, no problem for Georgia with an 24-17 win. The Bulldogs are well on their way to Atlanta.
Georgia eked out the victory on a third-down completion to tight end Eli Wolf. Florida made it a one-score contest in the waning moments, but Georgia earned the clinching first down.
Here are nine observations after Georgia’s (7-1, 4-1 SEC) win over previously sixth-ranked Florida (7-2, 4-2 SEC).
1) Oh, Todd Grantham and third downs. Georgia remembers all-too-well how third-down plagued its defense under the now-Florida defensive coordinator. Now, those opportunities were as sweet as those peaches after crossing the Georgia state line. Third downs became first downs, nearly automatically, as the Bulldogs finished 12 of 17 on plays that could’ve been drive ending. Georgia averaged 7.9 yards per third-down play, and it highlighted the team’s offensive showing.
2) Jake Fromm counted his blessings prior to kickoff. His favorite receiver, Lawrence Cager, returned as the go-to target for the Bulldogs. First play, 15 yards. Then it came again, again and again. The 6-foot-5 graduate transfer became Georgia’s lifeline and piloted Fromm to a 279-yard performance. He finished with a season-high seven receptions and 132 yards, and became a machine on third down with three completions leading to conversions. He broke free on a 52-yard touchdown completion to essentially put the victory on ice.
“It’s awesome for him, awesome for his future and it’s really awesome for this team right now,” Fromm said. “I’m really thankful he’s on my team.”
One of those heroic third-down grabs led to a Georgia touchdown, but some question the validity of replay review. He pulled out some shifty moves to work past a Gator defender, but he bobbled possession while coming to the ground. Nevertheless, the original call of a completion stood and a 3-yard touchdown pass to Dominick Blaylock followed.
3) Florida tight end Kyle Pitts was indeed a problem. Georgia wishes he wore the white uniform rather than the blue, but the Gators’ sophomore tight end torched the team that heavily recruited him. From the opening drive, Florida quarterback Kyle Trask’s first two completions went to Pitts for 25 yards. Whether Georgia matched him up with Mark Webb, Divaad Wilson or even linebacker Monty Rice (oy vey), Pitts played like no defense existed through a half. He finished with 78 yards on 4 completions, but only had two target in the second half.
“That was the Notre Dame game all over again (with tight end Cole Kmet),” Smart said. “That tight end is as good of a player as I’ve ever seen. He’s a dominant, freaky, long and hard to match up with dude.”
4) Georgia’s run game arrived late. Early on, Florida’s defensive line shut down the Bulldogs’ run game and the wood couldn’t be chopped (yes, a cringy cliche, but bear with me). Running backs combined for -2 yards on seven carries through a quarter, then D’Andre Swift led the efforts of breaking free. He received three carries on a second-quarter drive: seven yards, seven yards and then “BAM” for 30 yards to set up a scoring opportunity. Georgia chopped its proverbial wood, relied on its strength and recorded 121 yards. Swift led the team with 88 yards on 24 carries, but would’ve had 37 more and a touchdown if not for a holding call on Solomon Kindley.
“We had to stick to the plan. We knew we were going to wear them down, because we’re more physical,” Swift said, before Smart added that Florida is doing things that “aren’t normal,” such as playing five defensive linemen against the run.
5) Kirby Smart actually does own Dan Mullen. They only see each other at league meetings, Smart said, when sitting next to each other due to alphabetized order. Oh yeah, and on the sideline where Smart improved to 3-0. Over those contests (two against Florida and Mississippi State in 2017), Georgia has outscored a Mullen team by an 83-23 margin and the Bulldogs’ defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in two of them. Different year, same story between the two coaches who reside on Lake Oconee.
6) Oh man, Eric Stokes might’ve been right. Georgia’s defense proved itself against a legitimate opponent. That’s true for the Bulldogs’ run defense, at least. As has been documented, Georgia’s pride is in stopping the run and it forced Florida to become one-dimensional and carry itself on the shoulders of Trask. Boy, did Florida have no choice by recording 21 yards — the 13-yard sack significant in that — on 19 carries. Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce’s longest runs were nine yards, and they combined for 42 yards on 10 carries.
7) Havoc is back, and a pass rush comes against a substantial opponent. Other than the game-defining play against Notre Dame in which Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson came down to bury Ian Book, Georgia’s pass rush couldn’t be justified as “good.” Of its 16 sacks, 10 of them came against Murray State and Arkansas State.
Now you can say it’s for real.
“We always knew we could create the havoc every game,” outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari. We love getting those TFLs and sacks up, because we know it can impact the game in a good way for us.
Florida had a third-quarter drive churning, then Bulldogs’ defensive tackle Jordan Davis surged through a gap to take down Trask for a 24-yard loss. Drive quickly died, as one might imagine, and a defensive pass rush might’ve elevated Georgia to another level. Azeez Ojulari added another sack to the total, and Malik Herring recorded a hurry. In addition, Richard LeCounte deflected a pass to Pitts on a fourth-down try (freshman Travon Walker did, too, on third down).
8) Give credit to James Coley. His offense wasn’t vanilla. Georgia recorded 398 yards, which isn’t much different than the rest of its performances — it had 468 in a loss to South Carolina. But it’s how the Bulldogs did it that gave this team a boost. Gone were the first- and second-down sequences of up-the-middle runs. Gone were the persistent swing passes that amounted to little-or-nothing. Fromm hinted at a change but not a 180-turnaround in his midweek media availability, and he’s correct. Georgia stuck to its strength, but opened things up with toss sweep run plays, allowing Fromm freedom within the offense and running deep pass plays (some of which were on play-action) as the receivers created separation. Hold the firing talk for another day.
9) This could’ve been worse if Georgia cashes in. Place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship had three field-goal conversions, which can always be a jolt of confidence. All of them, however, came when the Bulldogs could sniff the end zone. On each of those drives, Georgia had explosive plays — a 30-yard rush by Swift and a 30-yard reception by Cager were the highlights — and gave the offense a swing of momentum. But alas, Florida’s defense stood true. Blankenship’s field goals came from the 13, 20 and 10 yard lines.
If Georgia were to score a touchdown on those drives, Florida’s hopes might’ve been darkened rather than dimmed with a 28-3 deficit (sorry Falcons fans). The Bulldogs walked away with a win, but it could’ve been more of a convincing statement. Nevertheless, all victories are equal and Georgia remains on a similar trajectory as it did last season.
- Trask: 21 of 33, 237 yards and two touchdowns
- Fromm: 20 of 30, 279 and two touchdowns
- Rice: nine tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass break-up
- Florida receiver Freddie Swain: eight receptions, 91 yards and a touchdown
“You have to try a little bit (to slow down). It’s a big moment. In the heat of it, you don’t realize how big it is until after.” — Wolf on his first-down catch to clinch the win
“Before we lost that game (to South Carolina), everyone talked about how good Georgia is. After the loss, its ‘Georgia sucks, Georgia sucks.’ Whether we do good or bad, we don’t listen to the outside noise. … We all believe in each other.” — Rice on team perception after win over Florida