REPORT CARD: No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs pass Florida test with flying colors

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Georgia defensive back Tyrique McGhee had a huge day for the Georgia defense. He had an interception and a pass break-up and forced a fumble in addition to logging 7 tackles in the Bulldogs' 36-17 win over the No. 9 Florida Gators.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The subject of Kentucky came up before Jake Fromm even had a chance to take off his cleats following Georgia’s 36-17 win over the No. 9 Florida Gators. He wasn’t really ready to think about it just yet.

“I’m really trying to soak this one in and enjoy it,” said the Bulldogs’ quarterback, who passed for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns. “We have to really go to work on them tomorrow. It’s going to be a war of a football game, just like this one was. We know they’re a good football team, too. We just have to play them as they come.”

With the latest Top 10 matchup out of the way, the No. 7 Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) now prepare to head back on the road to Lexington for the third leg in this gauntlet portion of the schedule. Kentucky (7-1, 5-1) managed to come from behind to record a 15-14 road win against Missouri. The No. 12 Wildcats trailed 14-3 midway through the fourth quarter before rallying with a punt-return touchdown and then winning on a TD pass on the last play of the game.

So Kentucky will be riding high when Georgia arrives next Saturday for another nationally-televised contest. The winner of the game will be crowned SEC Eastern Division champs, a distinction the Wildcats have never enjoyed. The Bulldogs are defending SEC champions.

Georgia has a lot to feel good about as well. The Bulldogs just prevailed in an extremely, hard-fought and physical contest against Florida in Jacksonville. Georgia trailed 14-13 in the third quarter, but only for a little over three minutes as they answered with a 23-3 scoring run to end the game.

It was a victory that made the Georgia coach particular proud.

“This group of men is as tough as they come, very resilient” Smart said. “They had to listen for two weeks to everything that was wrong with them, everything they did wrong and everything they hadn’t done right, and that was probably a motivating factor, because they get affected by what people say about them. But we just went to work, and we did improve in some areas. We are most undoubtedly a work in progress because we still have a lot of areas to improve in.”

Let’s break down what the Bulldogs did well and not so well, shall we?

OFFENSE: B

After scoring just 16 points in the loss at LSU, the Bulldogs rebounded with a strong offensive showing against a very good defense. The 36 points was just under their 39-point scoring average coming in, as was the 429 total yards (461.9 average).

Quarterback Jake Fromm was a beast, completing 17-of-24 passes for 240 yards and 3 TDs. Sophomore running back D’Andre Swift finally got his 100-yard rushing game with 104 on only 12 carries, and Elijah Holyfield added 71 on a career-high 20 carries. Georgia finished with 189 yards rushing, making 2018 the 13th consecutive year in which the team with the most yards on the ground won the game. Florida had 170.

Tight end Isaac Nauta had his most catches (5) in a game this season, and J.J. Holloman added two touchdown catches from 16 and 13 yards. All three of Fromm’s touchdowns came on third down, an area in which he and the Bulldogs had struggled coming into Saturday. Georgia was 8-of-14 on third down as well.

The Bulldogs struggled deep in the red zone, however, failing to punch it in the end zone three different times from inside the Florida 5. Once, the Bulldogs failed on seven tries from the 1 after starting first-and-goal there following a Gators fumble. They settled instead for field goals.

DEFENSE: B

There was a lot to like about Georgia’s defensive effort, starting with keeping the Gators out of the end zone, mostly. Coming in 12th in the nation in points allowed at 16.3, the Bulldogs were right on their number on Saturday. And Florida managed only 275 total yards in the game, while Georgia forced three turnovers.

The worst breakdown came on the Gators’ first possession of the third quarter when Freddie Swain beat safety J.R. Reed on a post route down the middle for 36-yard touchdown. That gave Florida a 14-13 lead that would last all of three minutes.

Linebacker Monty Rice had a good game, leading the Bulldogs with 11 tackles and a forced fumble. But the best performance of the day came from nickleback/star Tyrique McGhee. The junior defensive back was responsible for two of the three takeaways recorded in the game, with an interception and a forced fumble at Florida’s 1-yard line. McGhee also had a pass breakup and finished with five tackles.

Julian Rochester had Georgia’s only sack while Jonathan Ledbetter and Richard LeCounte each totaled  7 tackles. LeCounte scooped up a fumble and returned it 32 yards, but let Franks prevent him from turning it into a touchdown with a one-handed tackle at the 13. But there were way too many missed tackles, particularly by inside linebacker Natrez Patrick.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Georgia was back to being special on special teams after losing in this area against LSU. Rodrigo Blankenship finished 3-for-3 on field goals, all 22 yards or less and had six touchbacks on eight kickoffs, while being asked to squib one at the end of the first half. Mecole Hardman had 26 punt-return yards and 51 on kickoff returns. He also made a great play in downing a Jake Camarda punt at the 1-yard line. That would later lead to a Florida turnover and a Georgia score.

Camarda, who had to battle walk-on Travis Stratton to keep his job during the bye week, averaged 43 yards on four punts with a long of 57 and avoided any touchbacks. He had one semi-shank.

The Bulldogs’ biggest breakdown was allowing a 51-yard kickoff return by Kadarius Toney to start the second half. That would lead to the Gators’ third-quarter touchdown three plays later.

COACHING: A

Georgia’s coaching staff came in with a strong game plan for the Gators and made some quick fixes after the 36-16 loss to LSU in the previous game. Most notably, they managed to keep the team together when there was a lot of outside “noise” about the quarterback position, play-calling and defensive play.

The Bulldogs’ third-down woes against the Tigers were nowhere to be found as Georgia converted 57.1 percent (8-for-14) into first downs. The defense also was improved, keeping the Gators’ explosive running game bottled up with a long run of 14 yards and 200 fewer yards overall than they gave up against LSU. Georgia’s penalties also were down with four for 53 yards.

OVERALL: A

Georgia responded to a must-win game with a poised and sustained effort for four quarters, and it paid off as the Bulldogs put away the Gators late. Florida had the psychological advantage, coming into the season with a new coach and low expectations. Despite everything that was riding on the outcome, it was Georgia that stayed loose and converted the big plays when it had to have them.

The Bulldogs will need to bottle that mentality and carry it with them up to Lexington next Saturday. For the third straight game, Georgia will face one of the nation’s top defenses. After its win at Missouri, Kentucky moved into a tie with Clemson for first in the nation in scoring defense.

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