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Post Georgia 42 – Florida 7: Catharsis

Wednesday November 1, 2017

For two weeks we had been reminded that no matter how many indicators pointed Georgia’s way, we could expect the unexpected in Jacksonville. That was the most remarkable thing about what happened Saturday: with this team, we should know by now to expect the expected. No win over Florida these days should be considered routine, but that’s exactly how the game came to feel. It could have been Tennessee or Mississippi State. There was suffocating defense, a persistent run-heavy offense, uneventful special teams, and the occasional explosive play that showcased Georgia’s exceptional talent.

It was a new experience for Georgia fans, especially those who have sat through the losses over the past 25 years. Though Georgia could claim six wins since 1990, none of them involved Georgia handling the business of a clear favorite. There were the upsets in 1997 and 2007 or the nailbiters from 2011-2013, but the blowouts had all gone the way of the Gators.

Georgia’s last win in this series came in 2013, and that game was on my mind as this year’s contest entered the third quarter. In 2013 Georgia jumped out to a 23-3 halftime lead (remember this play?), and the Dawgs seemed poised to get one of those blowout wins we had suffered through too many times since 1990. But midway through the third quarter, an Aaron Murray incompletion was ruled to be a lateral recovered by Florida, and the Gators used that break to flip the game. Florida came to life and exploded for 17 straight points over the next seven minutes of game time. Georgia’s 20-point lead had been cut to just three less than a minute into the fourth quarter. The Dawgs were shut out in the second half and had to cling to their narrow lead for the final 14 minutes of the game.

I admit that Murray’s turnover crossed my mind when Jake Fromm made a poor decision on the opening drive of the second half. Georgia had been dominant, but that interception was the kind of play we all imagined when coming up with worst-case scenarios for this game. On top of that, the Georgia offense hadn’t done much since the first quarter. If Florida were able to punch it in after the interception, could the Bulldog offense hold it together?

If a 42-7 game had a pivotal moment, I suppose this was it. Florida dropped a pass in the endzone after the slightest offensive pass interference, and so Fromm’s interception came to nothing. Georgia’s offense woke up and flew down the field for a quick score, the defense quickly added a score of their own, and we’re here today talking about a one-sided win over Florida that Georgia fans hadn’t enjoyed in 30 years.

In a game in which Georgia attempted only seven passes, one of Jake Fromm’s biggest plays came with him running the ball. The Dawgs stopped Florida after the interception, but the game had become stagnant and still somewhat in reach for Florida. Fromm hadn’t completed a pass since his brilliant touchdown toss to Wims. Chubb gained a yard on first down after contact in the backfield. Georgia again looked to Chubb on a read play, but Fromm kept the ball, took off to the left, and moved the chains. That play seemed to loosen things up: Fromm found Swift isolated on a linebacker for Georgia’s first completion in two quarters, and Michel exploded for his second touchdown.

With only seven pass attempts, why not break down each one? The first pass to Swift anticipated Florida’s pressure. Fromm was calm against the rush and delivered a pass that the freshman could catch in stride, allowing Swift to use his speed to get past the linebacker. The touchdown pass to Wims was about as perfect as a throw could be. Fromm had time, stepped into the pass, and delivered it to a spot where Wims could use his size advantage to haul it in. Florida’s pass coverage wasn’t bad, even on Georgia’s touchdown reception, and they were able to break up a couple of tight passes that ended Georgia drives. The interception was just a poor decision. Fromm expected Michel to turn upfield, but even so the route was covered. Fromm’s final passes again exploited Swift against overmatched interior defenders. The first was an angle route to the inside on which Swift showed both his speed to get open and then his strength to run over a would-be tackler. The last pass of the day sent Swift outside and behind the linebackers. There was nice touch on the pass, and Swift did well to hold onto the ball while taking an immediate hit.

It’s fitting that a tailback would have 75% of the team’s receptions in a game like this. Swift’s long been established as a receiving threat out of the backfield and in the slot. He had his season low in rushing (8 yards) but more than doubled his season receiving total with 84 yards. If you’ve wondered about Michel or even the tight ends in the passing game, we present D’Andre Swift: a player who can line up at multiple spots, exploit mismatches, and also run the ball pretty darn well. Michel has been that guy for much of his career, but it’s nice to be able to bring him in fresh to do things like this. Where were the tight ends? Watch Michel’s run. There’s Jackson Harris coming across the formation as the H-back to take on the middle linebacker and open the hole for Michel. There’s Charlie Woerner from the slot leading the blocking downfield. As the receivers come to terms with blocking, so too have the tight ends.

After a couple of breakdowns against Missouri, it stood to reason that Georgia’s pass defense would be tested again. Florida wasn’t known for its deep passing attack, but they had the athletes and the arm at quarterback to try a few shots downfield. Georgia’s coverage was more than up to the task. They didn’t allow a reception longer than ten yards until the reserves were in on Florida’s final drive. Coverage also contributed to several of Georgia’s five sacks. Clark and Walker continue to earn more playing time even as the front seven welcomed back several injured players. If more disciplined coverage and an improved pass rush were points of emphasis during the bye week, Kirby Smart had to be pleased with the results.

Smart should be less pleased with the run defense. Florida’s limited success on offense came via the ground game where they amassed 183 yards (4.5 per carry). They were able to get to the edge, and Georgia’s containment wasn’t what it had been. More concerning was slippage in the sure tackling that had become a hallmark of the Georgia defense. Even the reliable J.R. Reed missed a couple of tackles. It didn’t matter in this game because the Gators weren’t able to sustain many drives, but Georgia will face better offenses in the coming weeks who can do much more damage if containment and tackling lapse again.

Georgia continues to pass the tests put in front of them: road games, quality opponents, trap games, and the biggest challenge of doing it all over again the next week. There will be bigger tests of the team’s toughness and preparation, but the Florida game has been an especially difficult mental hurdle for Georgia. Fans who got the rare treat of being able to relax and enjoy the outcome of the WLOCP are grateful that this team continues to keep its focus, execute, and win.

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