JACKSONVILLE – Unfortunately, Kirby Smart’s head coaching debut against the University of Florida didn’t turn out any better for the Georgia Bulldogs than what his predecessor, Mark Richt, went through most of his 15 years in leading the Bulldogs against the Gators in the annual rivalry matchup at EverBank Field.
With the Bulldogs’ anemic run game suffering through its worst game against Florida since way back in 1960 – count ‘em, that’s 56 years – and Georgia’s season-long special teams play literally coming up short again in the punting department, the Gators pulled away from a 14-10 halftime lead on the Bulldogs Saturday and waltzed on to a 24-10 win, their third straight victory over Georgia.
Against a defense that ranks among the top three units in the nation, the Bulldogs could run for only a paltry 21 yards on 19 carries. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason did add 143 yards passing, completing a 14-yarder to also freshman Riley Ridley for Georgia’s only touchdown, but was only 15-of-33 on the afternoon against the Gators’ fierce pass rush.
Wasted by the weak offensive showing was a decent effort by the Bulldogs’ defense, which checked the Gator attack to 100 yards net rushing and 131 passing.
Now in danger of simply finishing with a winning season as well as staying bowl eligible, the Bulldogs will carry a 4-4 season record and 2-4 SEC mark into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. battle at Kentucky. With Saturday’s win, Jim McElwain’s Gators stayed at the top of the East division with a 6-1 season record and 4-1 conference worksheet.
Statistics don’t always tell the true story in a football game – the Vanderbilt loss being indicative of such when the Bulldogs vastly outgained the Commodores – but, boy, do they tell the real story in this one, which ranks as still another sad day for the red and black on the banks of the St. Johns River.
Plays of 20 plus yards, offense and defense
The only 20-plus play by either team in the first half was Eason’s 38-yard pass to Terry Godwin, in which the Georgia quarterback scrambled to his right and waved Godwin deep behind the Florida secondary. And as things turned out with the Bulldogs notching only two first downs in the second half and eight for the game (none by rushing), that would be the only time Georgia could make a play of 20 yards the entire night. The Gators, also, had only one 20-plus play in the game, a 21-yard pass from Luke Del Rio to Antonio Callaway.
Untimely Mistakes (turnovers, penalties, clock management miscues, etc)
When the Bulldogs advanced to the Gator 2-yard line after a first-quarter interception by Dominique Sanders, right tackle Greg Pyke was tagged for illegal procedure and that mistake made Georgia have to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship. Near the end of the first half, a pass interference call on Malkom Parrish gave the Gators a first-and-goal at the Georgia 2 and two plays later, Florida scored to take a 14-10 lead at the break. Sophomore corner Deandre Baker, likewise, was then whistled for pass interference on the Gators’ first possession of the third quarter.
Special teams wins vs. miscues
Blankenship had his 25-yard field goal in the first half but short punts of 35 and 20 yards by freshman Marshall Long put the Gators in position to score both of their first-half touchdowns. Georgia’s second-half punting wasn’t any better as Long had additional kicks of 30 and 35 yards and junior Brice Ramsey, using the rugby style for the first time, had boots of 25 and 35 yards as, combined, the Bulldog punters averaged a meager 32 yards on eight kicks. For the most part, Georgia did a good coverage job on Callaway and the Florida kick returners, although the Gators did get a 32-yard kickoff return from Chris Thompson in the opening half.
On the Gators’ first touchdown, a 19-yard pass from Del Rio to C’yontal Lewis, Dominique Sanders had Lewis stopped for a short gain but whiffed on the tackle and allowed the Florida receiver to take it in for the six points. But the Georgia defense rendered a fine performance against the Florida running game, gang tackling throughout and checking the Gators to the 231 yards total offense, a performance that normally spells victory unless, that is, you have an offense that can’t hold up its end of the bargain and one that keeps the defense on the field most of the football game.
Yards after contact
None, for the Georgia backs in this game as Nick Chubb was smothered with Gators each time he took the handoff from Eason … showing 20 yards on 9 trips. And Sony Michel and Brian Herrien, well, they rushed for exactly four yards each, Michel on just three carries and the freshman Herrien on two attempts.
Sanders had his early interception of Del Rio at the Georgia 45 and returned the ball 30 yards to the Gators’ 25 and that led to the Bulldogs getting on the board first on Blankenship’s field goal. That would be the Gators’ lone turnover on the day and one positive for the sputtering Georgia offense, the Bulldogs didn’t lose any fumbles or throw any interceptions … a statistic that at least prevented the final score from being even worse for UGA.
Red Zone (offense/defense)
The Bulldogs were two-of-two inside the Red Zone, on one of the two trips inside the Florida 20 getting their only touchdown on Eason’s 14-yard strike to Ridley. But you won’t win many games penetrating the opponents’ red zone just twice all day. The Gators, in contrast, cashed touchdowns on three of their four excursions inside the Georgia 20.
Third down conversions
Another reason the Bulldogs’ offense faltered in this one as Georgia could convert on only four-of-14 third down chances. The Gators, meanwhile, converted first downs on nine of their 18 third-down opportunities.
Run/pass attempts (total plays)
All of those three-and-outs for the Bulldogs enabled the Florida offense to run 73 plays compared to Georgia’s 52. The Bulldogs had just the 19 rushing attempts for the 21 yards while Eason threw the ball 33 times, completing only 15 for his 143 total through the air.