Other than the final score, the Georgia Bulldogs dominated Florida in almost every way Saturday at TIAA Bank Field. Gators coach Dan Mullen saw it otherwise.
Saturday's 24-17 win by No. 8 Georgia — its third in a row for the seventh time since the series moved here in 1933 – gives the Bulldogs a 6-4 edge for the decade that will close with the year 2019. And with the way Kirby Smart has the team finishing this decade, the Bulldogs faithful surely have their eyes on the 2020s.
That might seem only a small thing, but considering the Gators won eight games in the 2000s and nine in the 1990s, it represents a significant redirection in the series for Georgia. As it is, the Bulldogs extend their overall series lead to plus-10 games at 53-43-2.
» MARK BRADLEY: UGA's Playoff path is an open road
Yet Florida’s second-year coach insists his side is closing the gap in the series. Asked how far his team was from running down Georgia, Mullen snapped, “seven points.”
He also added that this year’s SEC East race is not over.
“There’s a lot of football left to be played,” he said. “The division hasn’t been clinched by anybody.”
That’s a fact. But Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC) will be able to clinch an SEC Championship game berth if it can beat Missouri (5-3, 2-2) next Saturday at home and either Auburn or Texas A&M after that. Florida will need the Bulldogs to lose two of their final three SEC games.
Predictably, Smart won’t entertain any such conversation.
“We’ve got to play Missouri next week, and they’ve got a good football team,” he said. “The toughest job for us in moving forward is grounding this team and making sure they understand the quality of team we’ve got to come and play next week.”
Some other takeaways from Saturday’s proceedings:
Hey, Georgia can pass
Smart also was on the defensive about his offense, and offensive coordinator James Coley and quarterback Jake Fromm, in particular.
The narrative coming in Saturday was that the Bulldogs' offense was predictable and lacked imagination and that Fromm couldn't pass when he had to. While Georgia didn't exactly light up Florida's stout defense — it finished with 398 total yards and just 24 points — but Fromm was 20-of-30 for 279 yards and two touchdowns passing, the Bulldogs were 8-for-12 on third down and Coley was the one calling the plays on all of that.
» MARK BRADLEY: Fromm and Georgia manage big win
Asked about the Bulldogs’ quick answer to Florida’s fourth-quarter scoring drive with a 7-play, 75-yard scoring drive of their own, Smart made a point of pointing out the good work of his beleaguered coordinator.
“It was a great response, and y’all need to give Coach Coley some credit because he called all those plays, too," he said.
Smart slipped in a little dig on them about Fromm as well when he was asked about Georgia fans’ support of the game staying Jacksonville.
“I’m proud of the support that our fans provided for us, even if they did think Jake couldn’t throw the ball,” he said.
Speaking of Jacksonville
Now that the Bulldogs have won three of the last four in the Florida series, there’s reason to believe that Smart might want to rethink his stance of preferring it’d be played as a regular home-and-home.
The Golden Isles were covered up with UGA fans as usual, and their presence was strong at the end of Saturday’s game, as the Bulldogs’ side stayed full with revelers celebrating the victory with the team.
Smart was walking back on that narrative after Saturday's win, which came a week after the schools extended their agreement to play in Jacksonville another four years, with an option for two more.
"I want to reiterate what a privilege it is to play in this game,” Smart said during his postgame news conference. “I know a lot has been made about my opinion or our opinion of where it's played, but it is an incredible venue. That's regardless of the outcome of the game. Both (sets of) fans on each side, I think our kids really enjoy that. It’s great for college football. A special opportunity and the City of Jacksonville has been great with that.”
Florida run ‘suffocated’
Georgia’s victory extended to 14 games the streak in which the team that runs the football better wins the game. But that was more a product of the Bulldogs stuffing the run than it was them running over the Gators.
Actually, Florida did a decent job of containing UGA’s SEC-best rushing attack. The Bulldogs’ 119 yards on 37 attempts (3.2 ypc) was a season low. They averaged 236.9 yards per game coming in.
But that was countered by Georgia’s ability to shut down the Gators’ run game. They managed just 21 yards on 19 carries (1.1 ypc).
That was no accident.
“We wanted to suffocate the run and make them one-dimensional,” Smart said. “They’re going to make plays on you, now. They’ve got as good a group of receivers as anybody. I’m telling you, there’s four guys that are going to be playing in the NFL, and I’m including the tight end. But they’ve got good wideouts and that was my concern coming into the game. We knew that we may have to give something up to get something back. But we felt like we had to play for the pass and you had to stifle the run in order to make them one-dimensional.”
Lamichal Perine was the Gators’ leading rusher, averaging 79.1 yards on a team that went for 139.6 a game. Perine had 7 for 31 Saturday. Florida had 30 yards in lost-yardage plays, including two sacks.
The Gators did have 257 yards passing and two touchdowns. Freddie Swain led the way with 8 catches for 91 yards.
Wolf comes through
Tight end Eli Wolf wasn't the primary receiver for the Bulldogs Saturday. That distinction goes to Lawrence Cager and his 7 catches for 132 yards, both career bests. But he definitely made the biggest catch of the game.
The grad transfer from Tennessee hauled in a 22-yard throw from Fromm and third-and-seven at Georgia’s own 35 in the final seconds of the game. With Florida out of timeouts, it ensured victory.
The catch was one of just two on the night for Wolf. The other went for four yards.
“We needed a first down and we’re trying to run the best play possible,” Wolf said. “Coach Coley said that was the best chance.”
Smart was glad it ended up going to Wolf, who was been down on himself after not coming up with a couple of targets he got in the loss to South Carolina.
“It was clutch; he wanted it,” Smart said. “He’s been beating himself up for a couple of the drops he had, the South Carolina one and things like that. He ran a great route. We knew what coverage they were going to be in and how they were going to play us.”
Charlie Woerner also had two catches for 20 yards, giving UGA tight ends four receptions for the game.
Mizzou up next
Georgia will be a heavy favorite again when Missouri visits Saturday for what will be another night kickoff at Sanford Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN). The Tigers (5-3, 2-2) have been hard to figure out this season, losing to Wyoming in the season opener, then beating West Virginia (38-7) and South Carolina (34-14) handily before dropping their last two SEC road games to Vanderbilt (21-14) and Kentucky (29-7).
But one thing Missouri does well is throw the football, with quarterback Kelly Bryant at the controls. The Clemson transfer is averaging 230.6 ypg passing, with 14 TDs and 5 interceptions.
The Tigers also defend well. They lead the league against the pass (144.5 ypg) and they’re second only to Georgia (268.1 ypg) in total defense (281.4). Also, Missouri will be the fourth of five teams this season to play the Bulldogs after an open date.
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