JACKSONVILLE – Entering Saturday’s game against the Florida Gators, two of the keys for Georgia pulling off the upset of the nation’s 14th-ranked team were the Bulldogs’ ability to run the football and also, shore up their season-long special teams woes.
Well, because Georgia failed miserably in both areas, the Bulldogs suffered their third straight loss to the Gators by a 24-10 tally here at EverBank Field.
Georgia, which struggled mightily with its rushing attack in a narrow win over Nicholls State and a disappointing one-point loss to Vanderbilt, was shut down at every corner by Florida’s No. 3-ranked defense, the Gators limiting the Bulldogs to a somewhat pitiful total of 21 net yards on 19 carries. It’s believed to be Georgia’s lowest rushing total in this game in 56 years, since Fran Tarkenton was quarterbacking the Bulldogs in 1960. And too, in holding Georgia to the 10 points, Florida upheld its No. 2 defense-against-scoring average of 12.1 points per game.
And with their three scores, due to extremely short Georgia punts, the Gators had to go only 39, 44 and 56 yards for touchdowns. With both freshman Marshall Long and junior Brice Ramsey taking turns, the Bulldogs averaged only 32 yards on eight kicks, getting off punts of 35, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 35 yards en route to that total.
The loss left Kirby Smart’s first Georgia edition saddled with a 4-4 season mark and 2-4 SEC chart. The Gators, keeping their SEC East title hopes alive, climbed to 6-1, 4-1.
“It’s disappointing,” said Smart. “We thought we’d be able to run the ball offensively but obviously, it didn’t happen. They (Gators) out-physicaled us and we didn’t get much space in the running game. They just did a good job defensively and made us one-dimensional, and that’s frustrating.
“I thought our defense played well but our field position was atrocious and that field position was not only because of our punting but also, because they converted two third downs. If we stop them, we get the ball in good field position,” Smart said.
Trailing by just 14-10 at halftime, the Bulldogs received the ball at the start of the second half, with a chance to gain momentum or, better yet, take the lead. But Georgia promptly went three and out against the tenacious Gators and would go scoreless over the next two quarters.
“Getting the ball coming out the second half, that was disappointing (that Bulldogs couldn’t move it),” said Smart. “We had a good game plan but our tight end missed a block and again, we just couldn’t run the ball.”
“It was disappointing,” said senior tackle Greg Pyke. “I thought we played hard but just couldn’t move the ball consistently. Of course, Florida’s got a great defense and we knew that coming in.”
“It’s just frustrating,” said junior tailback Nick Chubb, who was checked to just 20 yards on nine carries, with a long run of seven yards, by the ball-hawking Gators. “We couldn’t really get things going. I felt like it was always three-and-out and we weren’t getting in a rhythm or anything, so it feels pretty bad.”
“I thought our defense played well,” said senior defensive back Maurice Smith. “This stretch has been kind of rough but I really can’t say I don’t love it. Wins or losses, I just love to play football, just playing the game I love and I’d go to war with those guys every time,” said Smith, the graduate transfer from Alabama.
The Bulldogs, after Dominique Sanders intercepted a Luke Del Rio pass and returned the ball 30 yards to the Florida 25, got a 25-yard field goal from Rod Blankenship to jump into a 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs moved the ball to the Gators’ 2 but an illegal motion penalty against Greg Pyke thwarted their touchdown hopes and forced the field goal attempt.
The Gators bounced back to take a 7-3 lead on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Del Rio to C’yontal Lewis, the score coming with just 17 seconds left in the first quarter and capping a short 39-yard drive after Bulldog Long got off only a 35-yard kick from his own 5-yard line.
Georgia then regained the lead, receiving the ensuing kickoff and marching 75 yards on six plays. Eason scrambled out of the pocket and passed 38 yards to Terry Godwin and then came back three plays after a 15-yard pass interference penalty on the Gators to hit freshman Riley Ridley with a 14-yard touchdown strike. After Blankenship’s kick, the Bulldogs led 10-7 with 12:02 left until halftime.
But Florida came back to gain its 14-10 lead at the break. Again, a short punt – 20 yards – by Long set the Gators up at the Georgia 44 and then they went the distance, getting a 2-yard touchdown run by Jordan Scarlett with just 1:37 showing in the second quarter.
Only score of the third quarter, which was again set up by a meager Bulldog punt, was a 4-yard run by Gator wide receiver Antonio Callaway, which boosted Florida’s lead to 21-10 with 3:11 left in the quarter.
Final Florida points came on a 38-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro with just 4:24 remaining.
While being held to the meager 21 yards rushing, the Bulldogs finished with 164 yards of total offense as Eason was 15-of-33 for 143 yards with the touchdown pass to Ridley, and no interceptions.
“Jacob did OK,” said Smart, “but he’s not where we need him to be. He’s got to get better. Those two cornerbacks (Tabor, Wilson) of Florida’s can be beat but with the (pass) rush they have, it was tough on Jacob.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs did a commendable job themselves, limiting the Gators to 231 yards total offense … 100 on the ground and131 by quarterback Del Rio.
Sophomore cornerback Deandre Baker led with a career-high 10 tackles and a sack while sophomore linebacker Roquan Smith followed with nine stops. Malkom Parrish and Maurice Smith also recorded sacks and Sanders had his first quarter interception of Del Rio.
The Bulldogs now have to travel to Lexington, Ky. next Saturday evening to face a reinvigorated Kentucky team that remained in the division race with a 35-21 dispatching of Missouri.
“We’re 4-4,” said Smart. “That’s a fact and really the only thing we can do about it, the only thing we can control is to get our butts ready to play Kentucky.”