JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Drawing a ton of criticism for maybe a career-worst performance in Georgia’s 36-16 loss at LSU, Bulldog sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm answered those critics two weekends later by riddling the Florida secondary for 240 yards and three touchdowns in leading his 7th-ranked team to a 36-17 smashing of the Gators.
Saturday’s win over the 9th-ranked Gators at TIAA Bank Field not only kept the Bulldogs on track to a second consecutive SEC East title and a trip to the Dec. 1 conference championship game in Atlanta but also marked Georgia’s second consecutive win over Florida, in Kirby Smart’s three years at the UGA helm.
Now, the stage is set for the showdown for all the East division marbles with Kentucky’s Wildcats who, like the Bulldogs, enter next Saturday’s game on their home field in Lexington with a 5-1 conference chart. The winner will represent the East at Mercedes-Benz Stadium no matter the outcome of Georgia’s final SEC game with Auburn and the Wildcats’ final league tilt against Tennessee. That’s because both teams have already toppled Florida and Saturday’s victor will own the heads-on advantage in case of conference ties.
The Bulldogs’ whipping of the Gators, folks, wasn’t nearly as easy as that 19-point final margin may indicate. Despite ample opportunities to put Florida into a sizable hole at halftime Georgia only led 13-7 via a Fromm-to-Jeremiah Holloman 16-yard touchdown pass and a pair of field goals by Rod Blankenship, from 21 and 22 yards.
And when the Gators returned the Bulldogs’ second half kickoff to the Georgia 48 and Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks delivered a 36-yard touchdown strike to Freddie Swain three plays later,
Florida had its first lead of the game, 14-13.
But the Bulldogs would come right back to take the lead for good on another Fromm-to-Holloman 12-yard touchdown hookup. But then came a good bit of frustration for the Bulldog offense. With a chance to push their advantage to 27-14 after Tyrique McGhee forced a Florida fumble at its own 1-yard line and Tae Crowder dove on the loose football, Georgia simply couldn’t dent the Gators’ goal line defense.
Six times the Bulldogs ran the ball into the Florida middle from less than a yard away and six times the Gators repelled Georgia. After Elijah Holyfield was stopped for no gain, and an off-sides penalty moved the ball to the half-yard line, Holyfield was then stoned again going off left guard. Then, D’Andre Swift was thrown for a 1-yard loss back to the 2-yard line. Fromm then attempted to pass to Holloman for the touchdown and the Gators were tagged for pass interference. That gave Georgia a first down and three more shots at a score from the 1-yard line. Then, Florida head coach Dan Mullen was also slapped with an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for arguing the pass interference call. Still, the Bulldogs couldn’t get across the goal line, Fromm being stopped cold on two quarterback sneaks and Holyfield’s final run over left guard also coming up short.
Thus, the Bulldogs were forced to turn to Blankenship for another field goal and his 18-yarder was again perfect to boost Georgia into a 23-14 lead with just seven seconds left in the third quarter.
But after being agonizingly kept out of the end zone just prior to the start of the final quarter the Georgia offense took complete charge in the final 15 minutes as Fromm’s pinpoint passing marched the Bulldogs on touchdown drives of 75 and 66 yards … which came following a 42-yard field goal by Florida’s Evan McPherson that again drew the Gators within six at 23-17.
Georgia’s clinching touchdowns came on a perfectly thrown 24-yard pass from Fromm to Terry Godwin in the right corner of the end zone and then a tackle-breaking 33-yard run by Swift. Swift, topping the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his two-year UGA career with 104 yards on 12 carries, crossed the goal line with 4:29 left in the game and Blankenship’s PAT kick put the final 36-17 tally on the scoreboard as Bulldawg Nation celebrated loud and proud and the Florida side of the stadium in the East stands emptied quickly.
Fromm was 17-of-24 for the 240 yards and the three touchdown passes, with no interceptions. Junior tight end Isaac Nauta led the receivers with five catches for 73 yards while Holloman pulled in four passes from Fromm including his two touchdown catches.
Finishing with 429 yards of total offense, the Bulldogs ran for 189 yards. Holyfield followed Swift by getting the football 20 times and rushing for 71 yards.
But the production of the Georgia offense wasn’t the only reason for the Bulldogs’ success on this cool, windy evening in north Florida. The Georgia defense limited the Gators to just two touchdowns and 275 yards of offense … 170 rushing and just 105 passing. Sophomore linebacker Monty Rice had a big night by ringing up 11 tackles which included five solo stops and six assists. Sophomore safety Richard LeCounte and senior end Jonathan Ledbetter accounted for seven tackles each with junior STAR McGhee following with five stops on the Gator backs. LeCounte had a 32-yard run with a fumble recovery that led to the Bulldogs’ first touchdown of the day, Fromm’s 16-yard strike to Holloman. Nose tackle Julian Rochester recorded Georgia’s only sack of Franks but Malik Herring, LeCounte and D’Andre Walker were all credited with tackles for loss and McGhee also picked off a Franks pass as well as forcing the fumble near the Florida goal line.
Thus, the stage is all set for the showdown in the bluegrass with a Cinderella Kentucky team staying alive for the division title by rallying for a 15-14 win at Missouri, the Wildcats winning with a short touchdown pass on the game’s final play, following a pass interference call on the Tigers.
As expected, CBS will televise the game nationally, with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. at Kentucky’s Kroger Field.