Georgia 42 – Florida 20: A three-act play
Most of the Bulldog Nation has moved on to this week’s showdown in Athens. If I couldn’t let a Homecoming blowout go without a few words, I’m damn sure going to give a win over Florida its due. It was kind of ridiculous that the trip to Jacksonville became somewhat of a trap game as […]
Most of the Bulldog Nation has moved on to this week’s showdown in Athens. If I couldn’t let a Homecoming blowout go without a few words, I’m damn sure going to give a win over Florida its due. It was kind of ridiculous that the trip to Jacksonville became somewhat of a trap game as the hype surrounding the Tennessee game began to build over the bye week. Florida had the season-opening upset of Utah to their credit, but it’s been a rough road since for first-year coach Billy Napier. The Gators had competitive losses to Tennessee, LSU, and Kentucky that featured the talent to make those games within reach but also showed the deficiencies that made a coaching change necessary. Florida was a decisive underdog against Georgia, and “crazy things have happened in Jacksonville” is true enough but not exactly firm ground around which to build a winning game plan.
Fans might have been overlooking the game, but Kirby Smart is never going to give the Florida game less than his best. Georgia was prepared and took early control. The Bulldogs scored on two of their first three drives while holding Florida to three-and-out on their first four possessions. Florida’s only offense of note in the first half was a 41-yard reception by Justin Shorter as Kelee Ringo mis-timed his jump. Georgia’s 28-3 advantage at halftime was as decisive on both sides of the ball as the score suggested.
Florida rebounded out of halftime behind their running game. A run and reception by Trevor Etienne moved the ball to midfield. A 5-yard run by quarterback Anthony Richardson set up a manageable fourth down attempt. Kirby Smart called a last-second timeout as the ball was snapped, and Bear Alexander wasn’t able to pull up in time. The personal foul gave Florida the break they needed to get into the endzone, and the comeback was on. As with most large swings in momentum, Georgia had to help with breakdowns in all phases of the game. Kearis Jackson tried to return three straight kickoffs and failed to reach the 25 due to poor blocking. Georgia had a fumble and interception on consecutive drives. A communication failure let Xzavier Henderson get behind the Georgia defense for a 78-yard touchdown reception that pulled Florida within one possession.
Georgia turned to the ground game for their answer. Kenny McIntosh rebounded from his fumble, and he and Daijun Edwards combined for 59 yards on a much-needed scoring drive. A tough 19-yard reception by Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint was the only pass play on the drive, but it got Georgia out of a 2nd-and-12 hole. Edwards rumbled for 22 yards three plays later for the score as he squeezed through a small hole and emerged from among the giants.
Georgia was back in control at 35-20, but it’s quite likely that the deciding point in the game was Florida’s fourth down attempt from midfield with nearly 14 minutes remaining. The Gators were still within 15, and the broadcast questioned whether it was too soon yet to go for it on 4th and 6. Florida had scored on their previous three possessions, but Georgia had just answered with a score of their own. The decision was set up by a nice defensive play on third down as a Florida running play was stuffed for a one yard gain. Napier might have already been thinking about the fourth down play, but the unsuccessful run on third down changed the situation. Richardson’s pass fell incomplete under heavy pressure from Carter and Dumas-Johnson, and Georgia cashed in the short field with the touchdown that put the game out of reach for good.
Even up 42-20, the Bulldogs weren’t as dominant as they had been in the first half. Florida didn’t have a three-and-out in the second half, and their final two drives reached the Georgia red zone. Georgia’s defense, to their credit, made the plays to force a turnover on downs on Florida’s final three possessions. It was the offense, though, that was able to turn it back on and put the game away. What deflated any chance of another Florida comeback was a stifling 11-play Georgia drive in the fourth quarter that ate up seven and a half minutes of clock. Darnell Washington dropped a fourth down pass that would have extended the drive even further, but the damage had been done: by the time Florida got the ball back there was only 1:32 left and the outcome settled.
That shaky third quarter was enough to put a scare into fans that were well into revelry at halftime. The turnovers, coverage problems, and the near-meltdown in all phases hit just as fans began looking ahead to the next opponent. It’s obvious what turnovers and missed assignments could mean against a top 3 team. Perhaps the team itself had also begun to peek ahead before this job was finished. We’ve praised the composure of this team several times already this season and will do so again – it was commendable to right the ship in a big rivalry game and not collapse entirely. It would have been just as commendable to stay in the moment and not make the sloppy mistakes that let Florida back in the game. Give the Gators credit – they didn’t fold at halftime and took advantage of the opportunities Georgia opened up. It’s a trait they showed in their game at Tennessee and a hopeful sign for a new coach. But a Georgia team that prides itself on making the opponent quit can’t be pleased with how that went.
- I’m sure Stetson Bennett is glad to be rid of Jacksonville. He led Georgia to two wins after the nightmare of 2020, but neither win was a showcase for Bennett. He entered the game with only one interception thrown all season and left town with two more. His completion rate was just 50%, though it didn’t help that some of his better passes were simply dropped. Bennett still threw for over 300 yards and a respectable 8.3 yards per attempt. 73 of those yards came on one pass and a remarkable reception by Brock Bowers. (It reminded me of Bennett’s scramble escape and touchdown pass against Oregon – it made for a great highlight, but the outcome was very, very lucky.)
- Kenny McIntosh ripped off runs of 13 and 15 yards after his fumble, and no player better represented Georgia’s resolve to get back on track after Florida’s scoring run. Edwards and Robinson deserve a ton of credit for their midseason production in the absence of Kendall Milton, but McIntosh had his highest rushing output of the year in Jacksonville. More than half of his 90 yards came after his fumble, and he finished off the scoring with a powerful run to drag the pile into the endzone.
- As productive as McIntosh was on the ground, his role in the passing game has taken a back seat. He had 21 receptions in September but only 8 in October. Surely defenses have adjusted as Georgia’s deep passing threat has diminished, but we know how dangerous McIntosh can be out of the backfield and wonder if something is in store for him.
- To take that a step further, McIntosh’s single reception (for a five-yard loss) against Florida was the only reception by a tailback. That’s quite a change from the four tailbacks who caught a pass against Oregon.
- It was also surprising to see Bennett only have one carry in the game. That’s not to say his mobility wasn’t used – there were a handful of nice bootlegs and rollout passes. You also don’t want to expose him to contact if you don’t have to. That said, we know how effective his scrambling and option reads can be. As with McIntosh’s role in the passing game, you wonder if Bennett’s running ability is something we’ll see more of against better opponents.
- The loss of Nolan Smith was big – perhaps as much against the run as it was in pass rush. Smith has been fantastic at setting the edge and disrupting running plays before they get going. It’s no coincidence that Florida began to run the ball better in the second half without Smith in the game.
- While the defense missed Smith, the return of Mondon and Carter was welcome. Carter was primarily used on third down packages and was extremely active and disruptive. Hopefully he can give the defense some early down snaps soon.
- Javon Bullard really makes a difference. He and Christopher Smith played lights-out. Smith’s pressure and sack of Richardson just after Bennett’s first interception was a great play to make sure Florida didn’t get anything going out of the turnover.
- Just as important was holding Florida to a field goal after McIntosh’s fumble. The Gators got the ball inside the Georgia 30 and were able to move down to the 10, but the defense did well to hold it together facing the short field. Georgia’s three turnovers ended up costing them ten points, but it could have been worse and much more costly.
- Sacks didn’t really mount up until the final possession, but the defense was effective for most of the game with pressure. Georgia had ten QB hurries, eight tackles for loss, and held Richardson under 50% completion.
- You don’t run for nearly 250 yards and allow zero sacks without good offensive line play. Devin Willock had some nice moments at guard with Truss a little banged up.
- We didn’t quite get the burst of points just before halftime that opened up the 2021 game, but it was still an important period in the game. Brett Thorson, as he’s done all year, pinned Florida inside their own 20. It might not have been reasonable to expect Florida to go 85 yards in the two minutes that remained in the half, but they might have hoped to run out the half and head to the locker room down 21-3 with no further damage done. Georgia didn’t force a turnover, but another three-and-out was good enough: a short Florida punt set Georgia up near midfield with over a minute left and timeouts in hand. Georgia was able to run seven plays and hit two big pass plays to McConkey for the fourth touchdown of the half. That score turned out to be bigger than it seemed at the time. Georgia still had some breathing room to regroup up 28-20.
- Georgia has built an efficient and productive offense around their depth at tight end and tailback. They leaned on those strengths in this game as much as they have all season, especially when they needed a response to Florida’s third quarter comeback.