JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the 85th time in the past 88 years, Georgia and Florida did battle next to the St. Johns River. And for the 54th time, the Bulldogs won. The score was 34-7.
Here’s how it happened:
A pass from Stetson Bennett was intercepted by Florida safety Rashad Torrance at the Gators’ 2-yard line late in the second quarter. But on second-and-10 for Florida, Georgia’s Nolan Smith ripped the ball away from quarterback Anthony Richardson at the 11-yard line. Smith took off with the ball and appeared to score a touchdown, but video replay revealed Smith’s knee was down when he wrested control of the ball. That would prove a moot point. Georgia’s James Cook took a handoff and slipped through a hole between right guard and tackle for the first touchdown of the game and a 10-0 Georgia lead.
The Bulldogs scored 21 points in a span of 2:09 at the end of the first quarter. All three scores were set up by the defense, including two by Smith. On Florida’s very next possession, Smith intercepted a Richardson pass that was deflected by Travon Walker over the middle. Georgia scored on the next play, a 36-yard pass from Bennett to junior Kearis Jackson in the left side of the end zone. With only 1:35 remaining in the half, Florida tried to answer the score. But on second-and-11 at the 47, linebacker Nakobe Dean stepped in front of Richardson’s pass for Malik Davis and returned it 50 yards for Georgia’s third consecutive score and a 24-0 lead.
It has to go to Smith. The junior outside linebacker had been criticized this season for not making enough impactful plays on defense. His two plays in the last 2:22 of the first half were hugely impactful. The caused fumble was Smith’s second this year and the second of his career. The interception was not only the first of his college career, but he said he never had one in high school either. With both leading to touchdowns, the Bulldogs are now plus-3 in turnover margin and have scored 73 points off 13 turnovers.
What we learned
Stetson Bennett still is Georgia’s quarterback. After all the fuss all week about JT Daniels returning to practice and proving to be close to 100 percent healthy, Bennett started the game took every snap against the Gators. And while he was hardly flawless – he threw two interceptions and was called once for grounding – Bennett made several key plays with his feet. avoiding heavy pressure several times and extending plays. He finished with 161 yards passing and 35 rushing.
They said it
“That wasn’t elite (defense). It wasn’t elite because we gave up 194 yards passing or whatever it was. The turnovers were elite, if you want to put them in a category by themselves. But we’re trying to play total defense. When you hold a team below 13 points, that’s elite.” – Georgia coach Kirby Smart
“I think they’re an excellent defense. I think they have depth. They have some talent on the field. I think they play really hard.
“The coaches do a great job of putting them in position to make plays, and they play with confidence. When there’s opportunities to make plays, they make them.” – Florida coach Dan Mullen on Georgia’s defense
“We really didn’t play a great game on offense and that starts with me. I didn’t play well at all. But our defense picked us up. They were awesome.” – Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett
“It was just momentum swings. Anybody on our team can do it. You can feel it on the sidelines and everybody’s into it. It’s all connection and camaraderie.” – Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith
Georgia: The Bulldogs (8-0, 6-0 SEC) remain undefeated this late in a season for the first time since 2017. They will return to Athens and play host to Missouri on Saturday. The game time has not yet been set for television. The Tigers (4-3, 1-3) defeated Vanderbilt 37-28 on Saturday in Nashville.
Florida: The Gators (4-4, 2-4) travel to South Carolina (4-4, 1-4) on Saturday.