|Jarvis Jones records one of his three sacks. (US Presswire)|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Note to the rest of the SEC: Do not make Jarvis Jones mad.
Georgia's All-America linebacker said he "took it personally" on Monday when his teammate, safety Shawn Williams, accused him and his fellow Bulldog defenders of being "soft."
"I wasn't mad at Shawn because he said something that probably needed to be said," Jones said. "But after that I knew it was time for us to step up."
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For seven games Georgia's highly regarded defense had woefully underachieved. After finishing No. 5 nationally in 2011 and with 10 starters returning, Georgia entered Saturday's monster SEC game vs. No. 2 Florida ranked No. 10 in the conference in rushing defense.
Williams' words hurt because they were painfully accurate. Until Saturday, Georgia's defense -- stocked with NFL talent -- was playing extremely soft.
"People accused our guys of things that nobody likes to be accused of," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I believe there was some motivation there."
Nobody thought Georgia's defense was soft after the Bulldogs forced six turnovers, including a fumble forced by Jones in the waning minutes, to beat the Gators 17-9 before 84,644 at EverBank Field.
The win put Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) in the SEC East driver's seat. If the Bulldogs can win their final two conference games against Ole Miss (next Saturday in Athens) and Auburn (Nov. 10 at Auburn) they will advance to the SEC championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 1.
"This was a special game because everybody had a chip on their shoulder," said wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who put Georgia up by eight when he turned a short pass from Aaron Murray into a 45-yard touchdown catch and run with 7:11 left.
Florida drove back down the field and could have tied the score with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. On second down at the Georgia 16-yard line, Jordan Reed caught a pass inside the 10-yard line and appeared headed to the end zone. But Jones reached behind him and stripped the ball away. Georgia recovered in the end zone with 2:05 left to preserve the victory.
It was a huge win for Richt, who came in 3-8 against the Gators and had never beaten them in back-to-back seasons. It was the first time Georgia has beaten Florida in consecutive seasons since 1988-89. Richt, in his 12th season at Georgia, spent some extra time on the field saluting the fans and soaking it all in.
"Football is really hard and we all wish we could spend more time with our families," Richt said. "So when you get a special win like this you want to take a few extra moments to enjoy it. I am proud of our coaches and our players and our fans who showed up and believed in us."
It was also a huge win for Murray, who had been given the rap of not performing well in the big games. Murray threw three interceptions in the first half. But when Georgia needed a play, he hooked up with Mitchell for the touchdown.
"We were very sloppy in the first half but we fought through the adversity and found a way to beat a really good team," said Murray, Georgia's all-time leader in touchdown passes with 76. "In a game like this you never worry about the stats. This was the game we had to have."
Richt said he is just about out of adjectives for Jones, who did not play last week against Kentucky because of nagging ankle and groin injuries.
"I didn't know everything he had done until somebody told me after the game," Richt said. "You could tell this week that he wanted this one badly. He brought a lot of energy to our team all week long."
Then Richt picked up a copy of the final stats to savor what his All-American linebacker had accomplished in Georgia's biggest game of the season:
• 12 unassisted tackles. 13 total.
• 3 sacks
• 4.5 tackles for loss
• 2 fumbles caused
• 2 fumbles recovered
"Jarvis was a beast out there," Mitchell said. "The whole defense was off the charts. That is certainly the best they've played all season. But everybody on this team had something to prove. We're not soft. I knew a lot of guys on the TV didn't think we were going to win this game. But in that locker room we knew. We knew we could play a lot better."
Jones and his running mates on the Georgia defense held Florida, the No. 3 rushing defense in the SEC, to a net 81 yards on the ground. They sacked Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel five times and intercepted him twice.
"That is the way that we're supposed to play defense," Jones said. "When people said we were soft I took it personally and everybody on the defense took it personally. When somebody challenges your manhood you have to do something about it. We did something about it today."
All season long Florida had been wearing teams down and beating them in the fourth quarter. Florida was in position to do that again, trailing 10-6 going into the final period. But the Gators simply could not overcome all of the turnovers.
"I've said all season long [that] we're not a team that has a lot of margin for error," Muschamp said. "Obviously six turnovers led to 10 points, critical plays in the game. You've got to rise up to those opportunities you have to make those plays. You've got to give them credit. They did and we didn't, but six turnovers, wow. That's tough to overcome."
Florida (7-1, 6-1), which had committed only four turnovers all season before Saturday, will certainly drop from No. 2 in Sunday's new BCS Standings but can still win the SEC East. The Gators have one conference game left with Missouri at home next week. If Florida wins and Georgia loses one of its final two conference games with Ole Miss or Auburn, then Gators will go to Atlanta.
"This was a big win but now we have to build on it," Jones said. "It doesn't mean as much if we don't get to Atlanta."
If Jones and the Georgia defense keep playing like this, they will get to the SEC championship game for the second straight year.
Watch The Tony Barnhart Show on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on The CBS Sports Network.