JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a corridor underneath the West stands at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Field, Georgia sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm was surrounded by reporters after leading the 7th-ranked Bulldogs to a solid 36-17 win over the Florida Gators Saturday night.
Most certainly, Fromm’s mood was distinctly brighter than two weeks previous when he suffered through one of the worst passing days of his career in a 36-16 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. This bounce-back victory over the 9th-ranked Gators, after all, kept the Bulldogs tied with Kentucky at the top of the SEC East Division standings with the title and trip to the SEC championship game going on the line this coming Saturday in Lexington.
“This one feels more special,” said Fromm, asked to compare Georgia’s win with the 42-7 smashing of the Gators in 2017. “Definitely, it was an actually fourth quarter fight. It paid off at the end. Last year was weird because it seemed like we were never on the field, because it went so quick,” he said. “We were putting points on the board so you can’t really complain but this year it was a fight. We were able to enjoy it and respect it a lot more.
“They played both,” said Fromm, speaking of the Gator defense. “They put guys in the box and in coverage. They did a really good job mixing it up. However, the guys on the outside made plays when they needed to make plays and the guys up front did as well. Our running backs as well, all around our guys were very focused on their skills and what they needed to do to win the game.”
Fromm, who completed 17-of-24 passing attempts for 240 yards and three touchdowns, led a 48-second drive just before halftime that carried to the Florida 5-yard line before the Bulldogs opted to get three points on a 22-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal to grab a 13-7 lead at the intermission. On that quick excursion Fromm completed four consecutive passes to tight end Isaac Nauta.
“They were playing two-deep zone and there was that matchup on that linebacker, and obviously Isaac is a really good player,” Fromm said. “He was winning that matchup so I kept feeding him. It really worked out for us on that drive.”
Fromm said the entire team was determined to make amends for the poor showing Oct. 13 at Tiger Stadium.
“We really wanted to come out and make a statement today,” he said. “We had to win this football game. Our backs were against the wall, and we wanted to keep every goal that we want alive. It was just trying to get better during the bye week. There’s no other way to say it, we had to get better all around, including myself,” said Fromm.
The Georgia running game complemented their quarterback’s passing by totaling 189 yards against the quick Gator defensive front. Sophomore tailback D’Andre Swift ran for a career-high 104 yards on 12 carries including a 33-yard scoring jaunt for the Bulldogs’ final touchdown while junior tailback Elijah Holyfield bulled for 71 yards on 20 carries.
Sophomore linebacker Monty Rice recorded 11 tackles to lead a Georgia defensive performance that limited the Gators to just 275 total yards.
“We practiced in the bye week after LSU to really stop the run and be more physical than the other team,” said Rice. “We were able to do that today. We always makes adjustments in the second half (when the Bulldogs outscored Florida 23-10), but we just talked about striking the guy in front of you and don’t go one-on-one and we will be all right.
“Jake Fromm came in here and did what he needed to do,” added Rice. “The offense protected the football which is the number one thing. Florida was tops in the nation in turnovers so we had an emphasis on protecting the ball. Whenever you win the turnover battle, you usually win the game and that’s what happened tonight.”
Meantime, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, running his head coaching record against Florida to 2-1, was so elated over the Bulldogs’ victory he danced uninhibited in the victorious UGA dressing room.
“Florida has a physical team, and so do we,” said Smart. “I am just really proud of our guys. They have worked so hard and dealt with a lot of criticism. They just kept working and played their tails off today in a very physical game against a good Florida team.”
Speaking of the criticism that came the Bulldogs’ way the past two weeks following the loss to LSU, Smart commented: “Yeah, it’s tough. You have to sit there and listen to that. Kids have to listen to that. But our guys just kept fighting and played really hard.”
Smart pointed out the Bulldogs had to snap back from adversity in the second half when the Gators ran back Georgia’s kickoff to the Bulldog 48-yard line and then got a 36-yard touchdown pass by Feleipe Franks to take their first lead of the game at 14-13.
“We came out, gave up a good kick return and gave up two plays and they have the lead,” said Smart. “It was tough to come back from that, but it shows the resiliency our team has. We have to come out better to start the second half, and that is something we will work on.”
Smart lauded tight end Nauta’s four consecutive pass receptions on the Bulldogs’ hurry-up field goal drive in the waning minute of the first half.
“Well, it helped that he was wide open (laughing),” he said. “Jake did a great job getting him the ball. They do a good job in two minute. In practice, it makes it hard on our defense sometimes, so we know how well those guys click. That was a big possession right there before the half.”
But what the Georgia coach didn’t like was the Bulldogs’ failure to punch the ball in from the Florida 1-yard line near the end of the third quarter … six running plays from that spot sandwiched around a Florida pass interference penalty failing to produce a touchdown.
“It’s very frustrating and disappointing,” Smart said. “We are going to get that fixed. We have to be physical to get a yard when we have to and we did not do that today. It’s absolutely uncalled for and we are going to correct that.”
Smart, though, was particularly pleased with the showing of sophomore receiver Jeremiah Holloman, who pulled in touchdown passes of 16 and 12 yards from Fromm while totaling four catches for 48 yards on the night.
“He played great, made big plays,” said Smart. “All that kid does is work. He doesn’t complain, he works hard and does what we ask him. He goes out there and plays on special teams and does what we need to do to win …very proud of his performance.”
Smart is hoping to be a proud head coach again this coming Saturday, when the 7-1 Bulldogs (5-1 SEC) square off against East Division co-leader Kentucky in Lexington for the division championship and subsequent trip to the SEC title game Dec. 1 in Atlanta.