Try as Dawgs might, Georgia can't give one away to Florida
Georgia beat Florida 23-20, spending the second half trying to hand the game to the Gators, before keeping faint SEC East hopes alive.
But when a season that began with hopes of a national championship descends into a series of injuries and disappointments, you take a victory over an archrival anyway you can.
And that, in the final analysis, is the best that could be said for Georgia on Saturday, as the Bulldogs beat the Gators 23-20 -- giving away most of a 23-3 halftime lead -- and using a gut-check, clock-burning drive in final eight minutes to hold on.
To be brutally honest about what happened here by the St. John's River: Georgia tried to give it away but Florida was not good enough to take it.
"Yeah, we could feel it slipping away. We could see they were gaining ground," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who was more subdued than happy after a draining second half. "We couldn't have played a whole lot better in the first half. In the second half we made some mistakes and they got their blood pumping. But we made enough plays. Any time you can get out of here with a win, it's special."
Saturday's win was very special for the Bulldogs. It was Georgia's third straight win over the Gators, the first time that has happened since 1987-89, the year before Steve Spurrier became Florida's coach. Spurrier (1990-2001) was 11-1 vs. Georgia and began a run that saw the Gators win 18 of the next 21.
The last time Georgia beat Florida three straight times, quarterback Aaron Murray had not turned 1-year old.
"This game is very special to me and to beat them three in a row is special," said Murray, who is from Tampa, Fla., and leaves Georgia with a 3-1 record against the Gators. "Things got tense in the second half but I never got the sense that our guys panicked. We just made the plays when we had to make them.”
Georgia, which had lost two straight games (Missouri and Vanderbilt) before arriving in Jacksonville, led by 20 points at halftime thanks in large part to the return of running back Todd Gurley, who had been out since the second half of the LSU game on Sept. 28 because of a high ankle sprain. Gurley touched the ball six times in the first half for 151 yards, which included a 73-yard touchdown reception. Gurley had a minimal impact in the second half because of a combination of fatigue and an upset stomach.
But with Georgia clinging to a three-point lead, the Bulldogs ran out the final 8:17 on the clock with a 15-play, 67-yard drive. Gurley touched it eight times on the drive.
"It is a totally different feeling when he's in the game," Murray said. "He was giving us everything he had. There was no doubt about that."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, "He was gassed, but we were trying to get him to the fourth quarter when we knew we'd really need him.”
With Florida's offense struggling, as it has all season, Georgia appeared to be in command with a 23-3 lead at halftime.
But Georgia's seemingly comfortable advantage disappeared when a lateral went through the hands of tight end Arthur Lynch and was recovered by Florida at the Georgia 14-yard line. That turned into a Florida touchdown. A safety when Georgia left cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy unblocked gave Florida two points and the field position for what turned into a 50-yard touchdown drive. A two-point conversion suddenly had Florida within a field goal with 14:20 left.
But after that Florida only got one possession, which it took to the Georgia 43-yard line. On third and 12 Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham rolled the dice and called for an all-out blitz. Corey Moore sacked Tyler Murphy for a 12-yard loss and Florida had to punt.
"I was just about to tell Coach Grantham to sic 'em, to go all out," Richt said. "But he called it first. I told him I was with him 100 percent because sometimes those kind of plays can burn you. But it worked. It was a really big play."
Florida would not get the ball back as Georgia drove from its own 17-yard line to the Florida 14 and time ran out.
"We felt confident when we went back out there we could run out the clock," Bobo said.
With the win Georgia (5-3, 4-2 SEC) keeps its faint hopes alive in the SEC East. If Georgia can win its last two conference games with at Auburn (Nov. 16) and Kentucky (Nov. 23), and if Missouri loses two of its last four conference games, the Bulldogs will go to the SEC championship for the third straight year. Missouri met Tennessee Saturday night and still has to play Ole Miss on the road and Texas A&M at home.
"We're still in it," said Richt. "Now we just have to take care of our business and see what happens with Missouri."
It was an elimination game for Florida (4-4, 3-3), which began this season in the Top 10 only to be decimated by injuries. Things don’t figure to get a lot better for the Gators with games against No. 14 South Carolina and No. 3 Florida State still to come.
And now the heat gets turned up on Will Muschamp to do something about an offense that has been ineffective all season. In fairness we must remember that the Gators lost their quarterback, Jeff Driskel, for the season on Sept. 21 and their top running back, Matt Jones, shortly after that.
"I'm very proud of our players and their effort, their intensity, their fight, their resolve to battle back," Mushchamp said. "We just dug ourselves too big of a hole."
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