JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Special teams play has assumed a special role in the Florida-Georgia game – far too prominent as far as the Bulldogs are concerned.
The last two games here have included seismic shifts spawned by something quirky happening in the course of a kick.
Saturday, it was the recovery of a fumbled punt in the endzone by the Gators’ Nick Washington that put the first six points up on the scoreboard.
It was Georgia’s Reggie Davis, attempting to field a punt in no-man’s land inside his own 5-yard line, doing the fumbling. And a reserve safety finding special team fame by getting to the loose ball first.
A year ago, it was a former anonymous walk-on named Michael McNeely who scored Florida’s first points on a fake field goal, coming in to hold and running 21 yards for a touchdown. Just days after his moment of celebrity, he was back bagging groceries at a store a mile from campus.
Around the same time, McNeely was accepted to Florida’s medical school, where he currently enjoys little applause or national television exposure.
The redshirt sophomore Washington had a little more substantial resume, even starting at safety the first two games of this season. As a Jacksonville native enjoying such a grand play on home ground Saturday – in a game that clearly determined the SEC East front-runner – well, who could imagine anything better?
“Every game is special,” Washington said, “but this one especially because it’s in Jacksonville and this is my hometown and this is against Georgia.”
In a game in which neither offense was producing early, Washington’s recovery at the end of the first quarter had the feel of a decisive moment. Indeed, in a game that finished 27-3, the play provided the Gators with all the points they’d really need. The rest was decorative.
“We were in our normal punt scheme and (Johnny Townsend) had a great punt,” Washington said, supplying the descriptive narrative. “We had a few guys down in the punt return and they were right in front of (Davis), giving him a little presence. The guy muffed it and I was just right there.”
It was just that elementary. Another year, another special teams play seized by the Gators and misplayed by the Bulldogs.
Incidentally, Florida had the extra point blocked after that score (its own place-kicking game is tremulous at best). But that had all the lasting impact of a paper cut.