JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One thing Steve Spurrier said he likes about Kirby Smart is that he wears a visor, but the Georgia coach might soon have more in common with the Florida legend.
Smart has rebuilt the Bulldogs into a power football machine on the verge of its third straight SEC East Division title. It’s a feat not accomplished since Spurrier was running the Fun N’ Gun in Gainesville (1994-96).
And Smart is doing it his way, with a jumbo offensive line, a pro-style quarterback and tightly wound defense that’s atop the SEC in most every major statistical category.
Smart is 19-4 against East Division foes in his four years leading Georgia. That includes wins in 17 of the past 18 dating back to the end of the 2016 season.
Spurrier didn’t win his national championship until his 10th year as a head coach and seventh at Florida, at the age of 51.
The buy-in for Georgia football is back after a resounding 24-17 win over Florida, a game the Bulldogs controlled from start to finish.
Worth noting, the 43-year-old Smart improves to 7-3 against Top 10 teams.
Smart and his players were focused on blocking out the so-called “outside noise,” but they were keenly aware of the second-guessing and doubt after a 20-17 OT upset loss to South Carolina on Oct. 12, and a lackluster offensive outing in a 21-0 victory over Kentucky.
Smart, to his credit, used the public doubt to rally his team and draw them closer together, the players responding with intensified focus and more commitment to one another.
It was a make-or-break moment for the momentum Smart and his program have built during his four-year tenure, stifling a Florida team that boasted its highest ranking since 2012, and validating a style of football designed to neutralize the spread attacks popping up around the country.
Georgia still has challenges ahead. Next up is a home game against Missouri, then it’s at Auburn, and then a home against Texas A&M before closing at Georgia Tech.
But beating Florida could prove to be the turning point in a season that had been trending toward falling short of expectations.
Here are three takeaways:
Jake Fromm returns to form
Fromm efficient 20-of-30, 2-touchdown, 279-yard passing performance was in line with what Georgia fans have come to expect from the 37-game veteran the past three seasons.
But Fromm showed another element of his game with his scrambles, three times escaping the pocket and potential sacks to gain 12 yards. The pocket presence was surely noted by NFL scouts, but more importantly, it kept Georgia in positive down-and-distance situations on a day they controlled the clock.
Fromm on third downs was 10-of-12 passing for 119 yards and a TD, converting for a first down on 9 of those 12 attempts. Georgia, on the day, converted 12 of 18 third downs.
The highlight era of sports doesn’t allow for assignment-sound defenses to get much love or recognition, a fact proven by the College Football Playoff selection committee taking Oklahoma last season and the lack of attention UGA’s defense received entering the game.
But folks noticed Florida, with offensive guru Dan Mullen coaching from the sideline, showing just 3 points, negative yardage rushing and 175 total yards through three quarters.
The Bulldogs, who softened their scheme after taking a 24-10 lead with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, continue to lead the SEC in total defense, scoring defense and run defensive while ranking second in pass efficiency defense.
There’s something about imposing your will on an opponent that former contact sport athletes can all relate to. It’s an empowering feeling that carries over into future competition while regenerating motivation.
D’Andre Swift’s 25 carries for 86 yards don’t seem impressive until one considers he was running into several 8-man fronts and most importantly converted on every short-yardage opportunity.
Also, Georgia’s ability to run — while stopping the run — led the Bulldogs to run 67 offensive plays to Florida’s 52, controlling the clock 35:48 to 24:12.
The UGA offensive line was impressive enough to keep Florida out of the backfield, but it was up to Swift to show the vision, power and decision-making to covert on third-and-1 on three different occasions — in the first quarter, and twice on the same drive in the fourth quarter.
Fromm and receiver had a wonderful day, but Swift was just as impressive with his tough running, including a 30-yard burst through traffic that was in line with what he’ll need to do to make a living in the NFL.
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