Kudos to Rhett McGowan who came up huge on two grabs and giving extra effort to pick up the first downs. Big time plays leading to the gw field goal and the game clinching first down.
Photo: Rob Saye/BI
JACKSONVILLE – Well, it’s Georgia-Florida and despite the Bulldogs seemingly owning a comfortable lead at the half, you didn’t expect a blowout, did you?
In danger of indeed blowing a 20-point halftime lead, the Bulldogs took possession at their own 17-yard line with still 8:17 remaining and kept the ball the rest of the game to hold off the Gators 23-20 and thus chalk up their third straight victory over the hated rivals from Gainesville.
The drive ended at the Florida 14, the Gators’ hopes running out after they first surrendered a clutch first-down pass from Aaron Murray to Rhett McGowan to keep the drive alive. The Gators were then assessed a personal foul penalty at the Florida 25, thus keeping the ball in the Bulldogs’ hands and enabling them to run out the clock.
Georgia completely dominated the first half of play, bolting into a 23-3 halftime advantage but when the Bulldogs couldn’t score again over the final two periods against a rejuvenated Gator defense, Florida came back and pushed Georgia to the wire.
The win keeps the Bulldogs’ outside hopes for an SEC East crown alive as they now stand at 5-3 and 4-2 in the conference going into the non-league battle against Appalachian State next Saturday and then a trip to play the nationally-ranked Auburn Tigers on Nov. 16.
“I’m thankful for the win and I’m proud of the effort from everybody,” said a relieved Mark Richt. “We played tremendously in the first half, then gave them some life and got their blood pumping. It could’ve turned bad, but we got some big stops on defense and the offense finished with that beautiful drive. Any time you can get out of here with a win, it’s special.
Richt almost didn’t have to point out what Todd Gurley meant to the team after the Georgia tailback returned to the lineup after four weeks and finished with 100 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown and also caught three passes for 87 yards including a 73-yard catch and run for the Bulldogs’ second touchdown.
“He helped a little bit, didn’t he,” smiled Richt. “He played so well those first couple of series. It was so good to have him back. After his long touchdown, his stomach got to him a little bit. He was queasy. But we settled him down and he was fine after that.”
“It’s awesome,” said Murray of his third win in four years over the Gators, thus joining Buck Belue and John Rauch as the only other Georgia quarterbacks to post three wins against Florida. “You always say ‘every game is the same. Every game is the same.’ But this one is different. There’s a different feel to it. The atmosphere is different. To go out and beat these guys three years in a row, which hasn’t happened in 24 years, is just an awesome feeling.”
“There were some key turnovers and things that we screwed up in the third quarter to give them life and get them back in the game,” said Murray. “We can’t do that. Every week, it seems like it comes down to the very last drive. I’m proud of our guys and we kept fighting.”
Murray said he wanted the ball in his hands on the eight-plus minute drive at game’s end that effectively send the Gators down for the count.
“It reminded me a little of last year when we were up but we needed one more drive to try to wrap it up,” he said.
The Bulldogs received the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards on just seven plays to the Florida end zone. Murray began the drive with a 17-yard keeper and mixing his passes to Gurley and Michael Bennett, took Georgia to the Florida 30 from where Gurley reeled off a 25-yard burst to the 5-yard line and then, on the next play bulled over for the touchdown. Marshall Morgan’s kick made it 7-0, still 12:15 left in the opening quarter.
After the Gators came back with an 83-yard pass completion, to the Georgia 10, the Bulldogs’ defense rose up and halted the drive at the 8-yard line, after which the Gators drew a 15-yard penalty back to the Georgia 23. Florida then went for a 40-yard field goal but Frankie Velez’s kick sailed wide right. Taking over at their own 23, after a Murray incompletion and a 4-yard run by Gurley, Murray then found Gurley on a short throw over the middle and the Bulldog tailback hit the open field, pulled away from a Gator that grabbed the back of his jersey and outran the Florida defenders to the end zone. The dazzling 73-yard scoring play boosted Georgia’s lead to 14-0, with 9:19 showing in the first.
On the Bulldogs’ next possession, with Gurley gassed following his long jaunt and actually going to the dressing room for a lengthy spell, Georgia used the running of Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green to drive to the Florida 32, from where Morgan split the uprights with a 49-yard field goal to send Georgia up 17-0, 2:13 to go in the quarter.
And as the game moved into the second period, the Bulldogs were on the move once again. Murray passes of 31 and 18 yards to tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome, respectively, advanced the ball down to the Florida 10. But three Murray incompletions later, Morgan was called upon again, this time booting a 27-yard field to make it 20-0, with 14:37 remaining until halftime.
The Gators would then finally get on the board, driving to the Georgia 14 before the Bulldogs’defense stiffened again and forced Florida to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Velez, thus trimming the Georgia lead to 20-3 with 9:54 until intermission.
Late in the half, after the Bulldog defense again denied the Gators a first down at the Georgia 43, the Bulldogs took possession with just 1:07 to go and got Murray completions to Bennett for 19 and 12 yards plus a clutch 23-yard reception by Rhett McGowan after the Bulldogs had been penalized back to the Georgia 38 for intentional grounding. That put the ball at the Florida 15 and with just one second left on the clock, Morgan drilled another field goal from 32 yards out to stake Georgia to a 23-3 halftime advantage.
The Bulldogs, after Florida missed another field goal on their opening possession, then gave the Gators a golden opportunity when a Murray pass in the flats to Lynch was ruled a lateral. Leon Orr picked up the ball around the Georgia 21and rambled to the 14, from where Mack Brown took it over in two carries. Thus, it was now 23-10 with 6:21 left in the third and suddenly, the Gator Nation had awakened.
And in the last two minutes of the third, after the Gators backed the Bulldogs up at their own 3, Murray tried a play-action pass from his own end zone and was sacked for a safety by cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy. The Gators had now drawn within 23-12 with 1:19 to go in the third.
And following the free kick, here came Florida again, driving 50 yards to a 14-yard touchdown run by QB Tyler Murphy, that after Murphy had kept for 25 yards to the 14. With 14:20 to play, Murphy then came back and passed to Clay Burton for a two-point PAT. And now, the Florida fans were up and roaring, their team having climbed to within 23-20.
But Todd Grantham’s defense, beleaguered and battered all season, then wouldn’t allow Florida to score again, getting a huge sack from strong safety Corey Moore, Moore throwing quarterback Murphy for a 14-yard loss back to the Georgia 43 and forcing the Gators to punt the ball back to the Bulldogs at the 17. That’s when Murray led the 15-play, 67-yard drive to the Florida 16 which ran out the EverBank Field clock on the Gators.
Just a great first half by Gurley, Murray, the offensive line, the UGA receivers and, yes, a Bulldog defense limiting Florida to just a field goal … without those dominant first two quarters and 20-point lead, Georgia doesn’t hold on for a victory in this football game.
What Didn’t Work
Again, bad gaffes in the second half that enabled the Gators to come back to life and almost complete a comeback that would have certainly spelled one of the most bitter setbacks in Georgia history. The lost fumble on the lateral, said Richt, turned the entire game around, just when it appeared that the Bulldogs had taken command for good. Then, almost a killer penalty late in the game when, even after a timeout, Georgia was slapped for having 12 men on the field, thus giving Florida a crucial first down when it seemed the defense had stymied the drive.
Let’s see, there was Gurley with his brilliant all-around effort, though everyone could see this great back still wasn’t 100 percent physically. If not for Gurley, the Bulldogs don’t go up 17-0 in the first quarter. Brendan Douglas again supplied some bull-like rushes with 36 yards on six carries. Murray was 16-of-25 for 258 yards and the TD to Gurley, with no picks. Bennett returned to the lineup with a bang, snaring five passes for 59 yards, Gurley had his three receptions and a touchdown and McGowan also snared three balls for 43 yards including his big first-down catch on the final drive. Morgan was perfect on his three field goal attempts, from 49, 27 and 32 yards. Defensively, junior linebacker Ramik Wilson was all over the field again, with 11 total tackles. Then came senior nose Garrison Smith with nine stops including 2.5 sacks. Amarlo Herrera showed seven tackles while Damian Swann, Corey Moore, Quincy Mauger and Josh Harvey-Clemons all contributed five tackles each with Moore ringing up his big sack of Murphy and Leonard Floyd also notching a half-sack in the victory.
Appy State, Then on to the Plains
“No doubt about it,” said Richt, speaking of the Bulldogs still being alive in the race to Atlanta. “It’s good to be in a position to know we’ve still got a shot. We’ve got to continue to heal up and correct the mistakes … and hope Missouri loses a couple.”