JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It was a game that would’ve made Vince Dooley proud.

Never mind the imperfection in Georgia’s 42-20 victory over Florida. The victory kept the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs undefeated on the season and continued their domination of the Gators under coach Kirby Smart.

Georgia also dominated the Florida series under Dooley, who died at the age of 90 on Friday in Athens. The Bulldogs dedicated Saturday’s game to the legendary Hall of Fame coach.

Georgia football-vince dooley-charley trippi

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

But Georgia didn’t make its fifth win in the past six against Florida easy. After the Bulldogs carried a 25-point lead into halftime, the Gators got to within one score, 28-20, with 3:31 still remaining in the third quarter.

That’s when the Bulldogs went old school, Dooley-style. They answered with a six-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that featured five runs and one pass to make the score 35-20. After getting the ball back from Florida on downs, Georgia’s capped another scoring drive with its fourth rushing touchdown of the night and second by Kenny McIntosh. At that point, it was clear the Gators would be vanquished again.

“I’m sure coach Dooley enjoyed that; I’m sure he was watching,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “You know, sometimes you take what they give you and sometimes you give them what they’re gonna take.”

Smart told the players in the locker room they were going to dedicate their efforts Saturday to Dooley. He said he said he visited with Dooley on Tuesday in the UGA football training room “not knowing it was going to be the last time I talked to him.” The Bulldogs found out Dooley had died upon their plane’s arrival in Jacksonville on Friday afternoon when the coaching staff’s phones lit up with text messages.

“I know if he was looking down on that one he would have enjoyed the first half; I don’t know if he would have enjoyed the second one,” Smart cracked. “He and Erk (Russell) probably had a laugh together about it. (Dooley has) meant so much to us. In honor of him and their family, it was special.”

The Bulldogs seemed to be in total control of the game when the teams adjourned to the locker room at halftime. Georgia’s Ladd McConkey scored on a touchdown pass from Bennett with 17 seconds remaining in the first half to go ahead by the ominous score of 28-3.

But the first 14 minutes of the third quarter all belonged to the Gators. After logging only two first downs in the first half, they got four times that number in the third stanza along.

Florida started the second half with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was aided by a personal-foul penalty against Georgia freshman defensive lineman Bear Alexander. He didn’t hear the whistle on a fourth-down play in which Smart called a pre-snap timeout and Alexander ran into quarterback Anthony Richardson, who had stopped his drop-back.

Then Georgia caught the turnover bug. On the Bulldogs’ first possession of the second half, McIntosh had the ball yanked loose from behind linebacker Amari Burney, and Florida’s Trey Dean recovered at the Georgia 27. It took seven plays to go 18 yards, but the Gators got a field goal out of it.

Next Bulldogs’ possession, Georgia moved quickly down the field with two McIntosh runs totaling 33 yards. But after on the third play of the drive, Bennett severely underthrew running back Daijun Edwards on a wheel route. Burney dove for the interception, which also came with a personal-foul penalty against the Gators. That backed them up to their 18-yard line.

On third-and-6, receiver Xzavier Henderson ran free down the right sideline on a busted coverage by freshman safety Malaki Starks. The 78-yard touchdown was the longest play of Henderson’s career and made it a one-score game, at 28-20.

The Bulldogs answered with an offensive possession that surely had Dooley high-fiving Russell in heaven. Georgia ran the ball five times on a six-play drive that ended with a 22-yard touchdown run by Daijun Edwards. It was Edwards’ second touchdown run of the game and the Bulldogs’ fourth of the game. At the point Georgia had gained less than 200 yards rushing. It would finish with 239.

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett celebrates their 42-20 win against the Florida Gators in a NCAA football game at TIAA Bank Field, Saturday, October 29, 2022, in Jacksonville, Florida. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Edwards finished with 106 yards rushing and McIntosh with 90. The Bulldogs averaged 6 yards per carry.

“I thought Kenny showed a little something tonight now,” Smart said of the senior from Fort Lauderdale. “When he came out after that fumble, he had that eye of the tiger, and he wanted the ball. He was running the ball hard and physical and getting yards after contact. That’s a lot of credit to the offensive line and a lot of credit to Kenny as well. That drive was big for us.”

The victory was the Bulldogs’ fifth in the past six meetings with Florida under Smart. Dooley was 17-7-1 against the Gators.

“We talked about (Dooley) before the game and said ‘let’s win it for him,” said Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, who had a career-best 154 yards receiving and a touchdown in the game. “To honor him was just awesome.”

There were many flaws exposed for Georgia, within the third quarter in particular. The Bulldogs’ secondary continues to give up explosive plays on deep pass plays down the sidelines. That’s not good news with No. 3-ranked Tennessee and its fleet-footed passing game coming to Athens next week. The Gators finished with 371 yards after managing only 88 in the first half and ended with 16 first downs.

Meanwhile, after getting back star defensive tackle Jalen Carter from a knee sprain that kept him out the past four weeks, the Bulldogs lost senior outside linebacker Nolan Smith to what might be a separated shoulder late in the first quarter.

All of the above goes far in explaining why linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson -- aka “Pop” -- was far from celebratory in postgame interviews.

“Nah, I’m not,” Dumas-Johnson said when asked if he was happy. “I mean, as a leader on this defense, we have higher expectations. We failed to live up with them today. The bigger thing is the ‘W’ or ‘L’ and we got the ‘W’ today.”

While Georgia’s offense played well, with another 40-plus point effort and 555 yards offense, Bennett’s play was spotty against the Gators defense that came in ranked last in FBS in third-down conversions. Bennett finished with 316 yards passing and two touchdowns, but threw two interceptions and completed only 50% of 38 passes.

McConkey had four catches for 51 yards and a TD but had another drop. Also, tight end Darnell Washington and slotback Dominick Blaylock each saw passes that hit their hands first end up in possession of Gators.

But the highlight of the game came on Georgia’s fifth offensive possession. Bennett unleashed a throw toward Bowers, who was tightly covered by Burney running stride-for-stride with him down the left sideline in front of Georgia’s bench. Burney tipped the ball but fell down in the process. Bowers eventually hauled in the pass, but only after bobbling the ball several times.

When Bowers finally gained control, there was nobody between him in the end zone. He was untouched the rest of the way for a 73-yard touchdown.

“I just saw the ball bouncing around and snatched it out of the air,” Bowers said. “I was surprised I caught it, to be honest. I didn’t run as good of a route as I wanted.”

In many ways, though, it was the imperfections that made Georgia’s victory beautiful. To overwhelm an SEC opponent while not playing your best says a lot about toughness and resiliency.

“I don’t enjoy losing the momentum in a game; I enjoy the fact that we never blinked,” Smart said. “The kids were saying the right things on the sideline. You know, there’s two things when adversity hits: You fracture, or you connect. And our team connected.”

Said sophomore center Sedrick Van Pran: “I just want to send out my condolences to the Dooley family. Coach mentioned it in the pregame meal today, and we just wanted to go out there today and glorify his name.”