JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was a game that Vince Dooley must’ve loved.
The legendary long-retired Georgia coach, who won so many games over the Florida Gators, watched his former team win one the old-fashioned way Saturday at TIAA Field. The No. 9 Bulldogs used an opportunistic defense, strong running game and key passes from quarterback Jake Fromm to pull away from the No. 9 Gators, 36-17.
The victory puts Georgia one step closer to repeating as SEC East champions. The Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) can clinch a spot in the conference title game if they beat Kentucky next Saturday in Lexington. The Wildcats (7-1, 5-1) beat Missouri 15-14 on Saturday.
Fromm, who was coming off arguably the worst game of his career last time out at LSU, had one of his best against Florida. The sophomore from Warner Robins had 240 yards on 18-of-24 passing and threw 3 touchdowns against the Gators, who came in with the nation’s No. 6-ranked pass defense. He also had a 10-yard run for a critical second-half first down and finished with 11 yards rushing for the game.
The deciding blow came when Fromm connected with Terry Godwin for a 24-yard score with 8:39 to play to put the Bulldogs up 29-17. He also had touchdown passes of 16 and 13 yards to receiver J.J. Holloman, who finished with 48 yards on 4 catches.
Georgia also got 104 yards on 12 carries by running back D’Andre Swift – who scored on a 33-yard run with 4:29 to play – and another 71 yards on 20 carries by Elijah Holyfield.
Florida, which came into the game with a plus-9 turnover margin, committed three on the day with an interception and two fumbles. The Gators fall to 6-2, 4-2 under first-year coach Dan Mullen.
It was the first time since 2008 and only sixth time ever both Georgia and Florida entered ranked in the AP Top 10. ESPN GameDay and SEC Nation were both in town for the game, which was broadcast to a national television audience by CBS. A sellout crowd of 84,463 was in attendance.
Georgia took a 13-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, and it did so only after considerable deliberation. The Bulldogs took over at their own 20 with 50 seconds remaining and Fromm promptly completed five straight passes – four to Nauta for 66 yards – to get the Bulldogs deep into Florida territory.
They had first-and-goal at the Florida 5-yard line when Fromm’s pass to Riley Ridley on a fade was batted away by C.J. Williams. Georgia was lined up to run another play with six seconds left when the Bulldogs called their second timeout. After that, Smart sent in kicker Rodrigo Blankenship for a 23-yard field goal. He made it and Georgia led 13-7 with 2 seconds remaining.
But it was understandable if the Bulldogs would just be happy to come out with more points than Florida. After jumping out to a quick 10-0 lead in the game’s first nine minutes, Georgia couldn’t generate much in the way of offense for the next 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the Gators put together a 14-play, 76-yard scoring drive that featured two third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion.
Florida scored on the its first possession of the second half after a long kickoff return and three offensive plays, the last a 36-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Freddie Swain to make it 14-13 after the PAT. But the Bulldogs would out-score the Gators 23-3 the rest of the way, with Terry Godwin and D’Andre Swift each recording fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Now the East will be settled in Lexington next Saturday. The game was picked up by CBS again for another national broadcast. The Wildcats, who beat Missouri 15-14 on with a touchdown pass on the game’s first play, will be looking for their first SEC East title since divisional play began in 1992.