“This is fun!”
That was a text I sent to various family members Saturday as Georgia piled on the points in the third quarter of its annual grudge match with Florida.
This wasn’t even the first time this season that fans got to savor such a lopsided victory over an SEC opponent, and winning big is always fun. But, winning big over the hated Gators is extra special.
Then again, this is shaping up to be a special season overall. Sure, there’s a lot of football left to play. South Carolina and Kentucky can’t be overlooked, Auburn will be tough, and Georgia Tech always is a challenge.
Still, Georgia fans are pretty unanimous in thinking this season is about the most enjoyable time we’ve had watching the Dawgs in quite a while. As a friend said after the game, “I cannot remember any UGA season with this few stressful games (1) in the past 30-plus years. Not even the ’82 and ’83 teams were this dominant.”
Jeff Dantzler of the Georgia Bulldog Sports Network was thinking along the same lines, posting on social media after the game: “Been waiting a long time for a day like that. Shades of 1982. Dawgs!”
Certainly, watching Georgia hang its biggest win on the Gators since 1982 (when the Dawgs won 44-0) beat the hell out of the past few years. As my son put it: “It was the dream beatdown we’ve never seen in my time as a fan. … This was sweet.”
It also was a relief for Bulldog Nation, which fretted endlessly during the two weeks leading up to the game.
I got together with a couple of longtime Bulldogs pals this past week for dinner and to talk Georgia-Florida, and while we were pretty sure the Dawgs defense could handle the Gators’ anemic offense, we weren’t as sure about how UGA’s improving offensive line and freshman quarterback would do against what was supposed to be one of the SEC’s better defenses.
More than that, though, we worried about the whole “Jacksonville” thing that seems to have plagued Georgia teams more often than not since 1990, especially years like 2014, when the Dawgs have come into the game as big favorites, only to get soundly beaten by an inferior team. Georgia should win, we concluded, but it’s Florida in Jacksonville … so who knows?
Fortunately, Georgia players didn’t seem to have any such doubts coming into the game this year, apparently having taken seriously Kirby Smart’s admonition that the past is the past and has nothing to do with the present.
As for the game itself, it was great to see the defense back at nearly full strength and the starters looking impenetrable. Yes, it would have been nice if the second- and third-stringers playing during garbage time in the fourth quarter had held onto that shutout, but that doesn’t lessen the impressive way the Georgia D played:
Five sacks. Two fourth-down stops. Dominick Sanders getting his 15th career interception. Another fumble forced on a sack deep in enemy territory, this time resulting in the first defensive touchdown of the season as J.R. Reed scooped and scored.
On offense, it was all about the rushing attack. Forget balance. Saturday was a dream come true for the run-the-damn-ball crowd, as Dawgs tailbacks shredded a highly-respected Gators defense for 292 yards. Nick Chubb broke tackles as usual in pounding away for 77 yards and 1 score on 13 attempts. Sony Michel lived up to the latter half of the “Thunder and Lightning” tag, streaking for TD runs of 74 and 45 yards as he amassed 137 yards on just 6 runs, averaging 22.8 yards a carry. Elijah Holyfield also broke a 39-yarder for a score. And D’Andre Swift had a couple of key catches, including a 39-yard reception on a third-and-2 screen pass where he juked one defender and broke a tackle. Throwing to Swift out of the backfield quickly is becoming a major weapon for Georgia, and the freshman back finished with 3 catches for 84 yards on the day.
The other highlight of Georgia’s only-when-you-need-it passing attack was a terrific TD catch by Javon Wims, where he went up high for a perfect ball. Otherwise, freshman QB Jake Fromm’s passing numbers were a Buck Belue-esque: 4 of 7 for 101 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. The latter, on an early third-quarter pass, was what Smart called a “freshman mistake” that was countered by the defense again shutting down the Gators.
Once again, boisterous Georgia fans wound up being just about the only ones left in a stadium away from Athens as the game wound down.
Smart noted that the win over the Gators was “special for all the seniors and it was special for our entire university. Our fan base was starving for some success against Florida.”
But, he cautioned, “the most important thing for our team is to keep chopping wood and keep moving ahead.”
In his pursuit of perfection, the Georgia coach told Chuck Dowdle of the Bulldogs radio network that he was frustrated by missed tackles on defense and the offense getting sloppy at times.
The goal, he said, is to keep getting better. “We think our best is ahead of us.”
Bulldog Nation is counting on that, Coach!