Has the series turned? Three wins in a row certainly makes it seem so. I have to admit that, as someone who became a fan in 1991, this is rare and unfamiliar air. I don’t know what being on the other side of this series feels like. This might seem like an unnecessary appeal for style points, but I was looking for Georgia’s version of a 2008-style stomping before declaring all of the demons exorcised.
It seemed after one quarter as if the Dawgs were well on their way to that cathartic win. I wasn’t sure that exchanging Bennett for Conley would make that much of a difference, but Murray’s comfort level with Bennett was obvious. It took one play to see the impact of Todd Gurley’s return. With most of the stadium and the Florida defense expecting Gurley to get the ball, Murray had acres in front of him on the read option.
The first drive was a well-balanced mix of run and pass, and it showcased Gurley both in the ground game and catching the ball out of the backfield. The second drive was much shorter, but the touchdown play was a smart counter to Florida’s pressure. Murray caught Florida in a blitz on Mitchell’s big touchdown reception last year, and he again burned them by finding Gurley with only one safety to beat.
The rest of the first half was a story of missed opportunities to put the game away. There’s Bailey’s dropped interception. Wooten was open for two touchdown receptions – the first was on-target and bobbled, and the second just a touch overthrown. With Florida fans sarcastically cheering their only first half points, it wouldn’t have taken too much more on the Georgia side of the scoreboard to send them back to tailgate.
We didn’t really like to settle for field goals there since it opened the door for Florida’s eventual comeback, but it’s significant that Georgia got any points from those drives. There are a lot of little things that have to change in order to flip such a lopsided series, and field goals were huge in this game. As recently as 2008, Richt’s kickers were 5-for-12 (42%) on field goal attempts inside of 40 yards. Since 2009, Georgia kickers are 70% from all distances in Jacksonville, and Morgan was a perfect 3-for-3 on Saturday. Even when iced at the end of the half, Morgan drilled his second attempt as accurately as he had kicked his first. For once it was nice to see Florida with the kicking struggles in Jacksonville, and Marshall’s three makes along with Florida’s two misses determined the outcome.
Lynch’s dropped lateral was the turning point, of course, but Muschamp’s decision on a late second quarter 4th down helped to provide Georgia’s eventual margin of victory. Facing 4th and 10 at the Georgia 40, Muschamp went for it to try to take a little momentum into halftime. The Gators came up short (actually lost yards), and the Dawgs had the ball near midfield with over a minute left on the clock. Had Florida punted, it’s not likely that Georgia would have attempted a drive of 80 or more yards with no timeouts left. Murray completed just enough passes to set up Marshall for Georgia’s final points of the game.
After the Vandy game, we noted how fragile momentum had been for the defense during the rough month of October. At Tennessee, all it took was a missed field goal to start to turn things. The Swann fumble and Wilson penalty at Vandy changed that game. You sensed an immediate shift after the dropped lateral. The Gator side had come alive, and Georgia’s fans could only manage a few half-hearted cheers in response. Florida didn’t have far to go on their two touchdown drives, but Georgia’s defense didn’t offer much resistance either.
I liked the fourth down call early in the fourth quarter. It was an attempt to recapture momentum, and I get that. A healthy Gurley probably makes the cut that gets the yard, but Florida also had three guys converging on the play. It was a good idea and well-defended.
That play put the ball back in the hands of Florida’s offense with good field position, but those 15 yards from the personal foul gave the defense enough breathing room to survive that unforgivable substitution blunder. Corey Moore’s well-timed safety blitz and sack on third down ended Florida’s final possession, but the first down following that substitution penalty deserves mention, too. Swann came across the middle of the field tracking Solomon Patton, and Georgia was in great position to stop a speed option for a loss. The play on first down forced Florida into passing situations, and pressure forced an off-target deep throw and then notched the sack.
Georgia’s final clock-killing drive was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t just Gurley grinding out yards on the ground. The drive started with a pass to Wooten. You had Gurley and Douglas moving the chains on the ground. The drive dies without two catches and a great effort play by McGowan. It was McGowan’s second important third down conversion of the game. He caught a pass in tight quarters on 3rd and 22, and the half likely would have ended had McGowan not twisted for an additional couple of yards to secure the first down and allow Georgia enough time to spike the ball and set up for the field goal.
Last season’s Florida win was considered a statement game for a troubled defense. The Dawgs only gave up 53 more yards this year (319 to 266.) Murphy was only 13/29 for just 6 yards per attempt even with the harmless long completion on the first Florida series. They didn’t respond especially well after the turnover and safety, but they were able to gather themselves for a single big fourth quarter stop.
The biggest difference from a year ago was in the turnover column. Georgia had decent pressure and forced some errant throws, but the defense went from six takeaways a year ago to zero on Saturday. They had a few chances – Bailey needs to make that pick, and Ramik Wilson was a step away from blowing up the handoff that turned into the horsecollar penalty.
Georgia’s defense still has trouble setting the edge at times. Runs forced to the middle were usually handled well and pursuit was excellent, but there has to be better discipline on outside runs and especially read plays. Auburn and Tech run the kinds of offenses that can target and attack those weaknesses and tendencies in the run defense.
- Aaron Murray had one of his better Florida games. The totals weren’t what they were in 2010, but Georgia’s offense didn’t have enough possession in the second half to put up any kind of numbers when Murray attempted only four passes – three of which came on the final drive. Most importantly, Murray made few mistakes. This was his first Florida game without an interception. Several of his incompletions were drops, and another – essentially throwing the ball away at the goal line – might’ve been forced and intercepted in earlier games. Georgia had to settle for a field goal, but it’s a good thing they got those three points.
- Murray and the rest of the offense proved to be clutch. They converted 58% of third downs against a defense averaging 31%. The quick drive and third down conversion at the end of the first half ended up providing the margin of victory. Murray was a perfect 3-for-3 on the final drive as Georgia moved the chains time and again to kill the clock.
- Jonathon Rumph exists! Hopefully it won’t be a Marlon Brown type of waste, but there won’t be a redshirt for the JUCO receiver. Rumph didn’t have any receptions or targets in the game, but he got in both early and late in the game. Hopefully we’ll see him a bit more involved in the offense now that the redshirt is off.
- We were glad to see Michael Bennett doing whatever it took to win, but it was a little scary seeing a guy just off a knee injury asked to more or less be a fullback and block a defensive end on Georgia’s final drive. Bennett did well just to get in the way, but that couldn’t have been a pleasant assignment.
- If you want to know why Georgia’s offense seemed to disappear, look at Florida’s drives in the second and third quarter. The Gators had consecutive drives of 12, 13, and 13 plays that took over 18 minutes off the clock. It’s to the defense’s credit that the Gators only came up with three points from those three long drives, but the toll they took showed up later during Florida’s comeback. Until the final 15-play series that ended the game, the Dawgs only had one drive of more than 6 plays after the first quarter, and that came in 67 seconds at the end of the first half.
- I don’t know what Garrison Smith had to say on the sideline, but he wasn’t just all talk. With nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, and consistent pressure all night, he led on and off the field like a senior who was not willing to lose his final Florida game.
One last thing…it would be wrong for a player to strike anyone on the field – other players, refs, coaches – but if Florida strength coach Jeff Dillman continues to put his hands on players and jump into frays, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got popped someday. If you saw the bald guy in the orange shirt in the middle of almost every play along the Florida sideline, you know what I’m talking about. And it’s not the first time, either.