JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – No hex swirling over the Bulldogs’ heads in this one.
No mystifying performance when Georgia rated a solid favorite over the Florida Gators and came up on the short end.
No, this 2017 football squad of Kirby Smart treats all opponents the same, whether it’s Samford, Tennessee or Florida.
Socking the Gators with a knockout punch in the first quarter, the unbeaten and 3rd-ranked Bulldogs bolted to a quick 21-0 lead and romped on to a 42-7 win over a stumbling Florida team. Snapping a three-game losing string to the Gators, Georgia climbed to 8-0 on the season with the South Carolina Gamecocks coming between the hedges next Saturday.
It was a beat-down, plain and simple, reminiscent of the one-sided defeats Florida coach Steve Spurrier inflicted on the Bulldogs in most of the 1990s.
Georgia surged 53 yards in just four plays the first time it touched the ball with Nick Chubb getting the touchdown from six yards out, Chubb’s score being set up by a 39-yard screen pass from Jake Fromm to D’Andre Swift.
Holding the Gators without a first down on Florida’s first three possessions, the Bulldogs then surged ahead 14-0 after Dominique Sanders picked off his 15th career interception – one short of tying the school record – Georgia had to only go 29 yards this time and the Bulldogs did it in three plays. Fromm’s 17-yard strike to a leaping Javon Wims got the touchdown with still 9:12 left in the first period.
Then came the first of two electrifying touchdown jaunts by senior tailback Sony Michel. On this one he burst through the middle of the Gator defense and outran the Florida secondary 74 yards for the score. Rod Blankenship’s kick pushed the tally to 21-0 with 7:32 left in the first.
With the Bulldogs maybe turning a bit conservative on offense, Georgia couldn’t muster any additional points in the second quarter, but neither could the Gators get on the board.
But then came the second half and the Bulldogs added insult to injury to the Florida Gators, sticking 21 more points on the scoreboard via Michel’s second long touchdown run, this time a 45-yard burst off the left side, a 3-yard scoop-and-score by J.R. Reed after fellow defensive back Tyrique McGhee separated Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks from the ball on a pass attempt (Georgia’s first non-offensive score of the season), and the final score in the fourth quarter coming on a 39-yard dash by Elijah Holyfield down the left sidelines, diving across from the one to complete his touchdown run. That came with still 11:22 left in the game and sent the small contingent of Gator fans that remained in the stadium streaming to the exits.
The Gators did spoil Georgia’s shutout bid with backup quarterback Malik Zaire directing a 71-yard touchdown drive that produced a 1-yard scoring run by Mark Thompson with just 2:42 left in the game. But then, the Florida touchdown came on the Bulldogs’ No. 2 defense.
To say the least, Michel had a productive evening carrying the football. With only six carries, he netted 137 yards including the touchdown runs of 74 and 45 yards. That’s a cool 22.8 yards-per-carry average. Chubb showed 77 yards on 13 trips including the Bulldogs’ first score, and Holyfield continued his fourth quarter heroics with his 39-yard TD run, which enabled him to total 49 yards on just four carries for the night. Georgia pounded the Gators’ supposedly proud run defense for 292 yards on 35 attempts.
Fromm threw the ball just seven times but was most efficient, completing four of those attempts for 101 yards and the 17-yard scoring pass to Wims. The freshman Swift, continuing to display his versatility, was the game’s leading receiver with three catches for 84 yards and on his last catch of the night, ran flat over Gators defensive back Chauncey Gardner, who did a little trash talking earlier in the week of what Florida would do to the Bulldogs again.
Meanwhile, the tenacious Georgia defense was smoking the entire game. Continually harassing Florida QB Franks, the Bulldogs limited the Gators to 183 yards rushing – most of that coming late against the UGA backups – and just 66 yards passing. That’s just 249 yards of total offense for the Mighty Gators, folks.
Senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter showed why he came back, by leading the defense with nine total tackles including one sack and one tackle-for-loss. The man in the middle, junior linebacker Roquan Smith, had his usual yeoman performance with eight tackles while sophomore safety Reed also rendered eight stops and, of course, had his 3-yard scoop- and-score after McGhee caused the Franks fumble. All told, the Bulldogs registered five sacks for 46 yards in losses.
Again, while those people in orange and blue, except for a faithful few, had left the stadium by the final quarter, all those fans decked out in red and black in the East stands of EverBank Field remained in their seats down to the final sweet moments.
After all, this was Georgia’s most one-sided domination of Florida since way back in 1982 when Herschel Walker and those Bulldogs steamrolled the Gators, 44-0.
Georgia, before hosting the Gamecocks this coming Saturday, awaits the first college playoff rankings on Tuesday, Halloween day, when the Bulldogs, considering second-ranked Penn State’s 39-38 loss to Ohio State, should at least occupy the No. 2 national ranking.