Georgia beat Florida.
Sorry, that sentence always should end in an exclamation point: Georgia beat Florida!
Even if they only looked great in flashes (mainly involving Jake Fromm) while doing so — and, frankly, looked awful on a couple of occasions — Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs proved themselves to be a resilient and opportunistic team capable of beating another Top 10 opponent.
Yes, the Dawgs need to improve in a lot of areas, as their head coach noted after Saturday’s win over Florida, but the win over a Gators program that has proved quickly resurgent under Dan Mullen was hard-fought and mostly satisfying. And, even if the Bulldogs were less than impressive at times, the fact that they bucked a disturbing Georgia trend of recent decades by not losing to a first-year Florida coach is something to celebrate.
It’s also noteworthy that, while pulling away from a tough Gators team with a dominant fourth quarter for a 19-point win, Georgia tamped down those questions about which quarterback should be playing. Celebrated freshman backup Justin Fields didn’t get into the game (though I can think of at least one instance where perhaps he should have), while Fromm followed his poor showing two weeks ago against LSU with an impressive outing that saw him throw three touchdown passes. He looked like his 2017 self: decisive, accurate and poised.
Part of that no doubt was due to Georgia also changing the script from the LSU debacle by sticking with its revived rushing attack, which opened things up for Fromm and the passing game. It’s notable that, instead of a rigid tailback-by-committee rotation that drew criticism in Baton Rouge, Georgia mostly fed the ball to its two best backs, Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift. After struggling with injuries much of the year, the latter looked to be back to last-year’s form, notching his first 100-yard game thanks to a terrific 33-yard run for Georgia’s final touchdown.
As for the Georgia defense, it had a good day overall, but was helped considerably by mistake-prone Gators QB Feleipe Franks.
A few other takeaways from Saturday’s win over the No. 9-ranked Gators before a national TV audience and a capacity 50/50 crowd at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville:
• Third and Grantham is a thing, at least, for Fromm and Georgia. The Dawgs were 8 of 14 on third down, and, incredibly, all four of their touchdowns came on third-down plays. Former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, now running the D at Florida, again came up short in his third outing against his former team since leaving Athens.
• Georgia’s tight ends are back in the receiving business. The Dawgs’ final drive of the first half consisted of passes to Isaac Nauta, who finished the day with five catches for 73 yards, averaging 14.6 yards per catch. Fellow tight end Charlie Woerner also had a key 35-yard reception. Covering tight ends always seems to have been Kryptonite for Grantham defenses.
• The receivers looked good overall, with Jeremiah Holloman stepping up in the former Javon Wims role in this game, snagging a pair of perfectly thrown TD passes from Fromm.
• Georgia has severe problems in its short-yardage game. Besides having to work with an injury-depleted offensive line, this appeared to be attributable, at least in part, to questionable, unimaginative and, at times, timid play calls by Jim Chaney. On third and inches, a jet sweep was stuffed (that play hasn’t worked this season against anything but inferior defenses), and the Dawgs generally struggled in the red zone, most notably on a series that raised eyebrows when Georgia recovered a Florida fumble at the Gators’ 1-yard line and then was unable to punch it over in seven tries, despite being aided by three penalties. Holyfield kept getting stuffed in the backfield, as Georgia repeatedly failed to block Gators defensive end Jabari Zuniga, and the offensive line couldn’t get any push on successive sneaks by Fromm.
The lack of a fullback showed up big on that series, which four different Georgia fans texting me described aptly as “embarrassing.” That’s the one instance where I think it might have been a good idea to put in Fields and see if his speed might have allowed him to beat the Gators’ defenders to the edge.
An obviously frustrated Smart lamented to the Bulldogs radio network’s Chuck Dowdle after the game: “We’ve got to be physical enough to get a damn yard.” But, really, that series was more a failure on the part of the coaching staff.
• Early on, Georgia had trouble handling Florida’s blitzes, with the Dawgs’ first drive stalled by Fromm being sacked by an untouched pass rusher, but, overall, the patched-together OL played surprisingly well in protecting Fromm.
• The pride of Elberton, Mecole Hardman, accounted for 87 all-purpose yards, with 10 receiving yards, 26 punt return yards and 51 kickoff return yards. Also, he downed a punt on the 1-yard line in the 3rdquarter. And, all of that despite having to leave the game with an injury at one point.
• With Kentuky’s Bennie Snell, probably the SEC’s best running back, coming up, the Dawgs need to go back to basics this week when it comes to tackling. Their efforts in that regard were woefully lacking against the Gators, especially with the linebackers. Natrez Patrick whiffed badly at least three times.
• While Georgia’s defense caused three Florida turnovers and generally was effective most of Saturday (with only three Florida drives producing points), the run defense continued to look vulnerable, especially in the first half, even if the 170 yards they gave up to Gators rushers was an improvement over the showing at LSU. They still allowed the Gators to average 4.6 yards per run, which is too much. Georgia also continued to have a very ineffective pass rush.
• Smart had clock management issues, with half a minute that he wasted late in the first half resulting in Georgia running out of time and having to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. (After the game, he admitted that leaving two timeouts unused in the half was a mistake.)
• Overall, Georgia left entirely too many points on the field. The 13-7 halftime lead should have been 21-7, and the final score should have seen Georgia with 48 points.
• Special teams play generally was good, though the one long kickoff where Rodrigo Blankenship failed to reach the end zone resulted in a 51-yard return that set up a Florida touchdown. Again, tackling was awful on that play.
With the upcoming game against a strong Kentucky team essentially acting as a play-in for the SEC Championship bout in Atlanta, Georgia remains, as Smart said after the game, “undoubtedly a work in progress.”
And, as he told CBS: “We’ve still got a long way to go.”
Still, any win over the Gators is something to be treasured.