The party might have had the same guest list, but it wasn’t the same old song and dance.
Georgia scored a historic victory against Florida that not only kept pressure on South Carolina at the top of the SEC Eastern Division, but took a mass of weight off of Mark Richt’s shoulders about the size of Stone Mountain.
Georgia beat Florida 24-20 on Saturday at EverBank Field, just the fourth time in 22 years that the Bulldogs have managed to take down the Gators.
The game wasn’t pretty. Both sides made game-changing mistakes. The outcome remained in doubt until the final whistle.
But in a season when nothing comes easy for Georgia, this win was about as satisfying as Thanksgiving turkey.
Jarvis Jones played a huge game, tying Charles Johnson’s school record with four sacks, and Richard Samuel rescued a sputtering offense in the second half.
On the negative side, the special teams continued to show Homer Simpson moments and the offense went dormant for long stretches.
For the first time since 2007, Georgia returned from Jacksonville brimming with confidence and full of momentum for a November run. Georgia has won six straight, including four SEC games on the road, since its floundering start. Although the Bulldogs still have an entire month to play, three of those games are at home.
THE GOOD: Todd Grantham’s defense was the star of the game. The Bulldogs allowed minus-19 rushing yards, the second time this season Georgia has held an opponent to negative numbers. That total is even more impressive considering the Gators used two NFL-caliber halfbacks — Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps — and they combined for 38 rushing yards.
Florida quarterback John Brantley completed 12 of 34 passes for 245 yards, but most of that damage was inflicted in the first half.
As the game progressed, Georgia took advantage of Brantley’s immobility on his injured ankle. He became a stationary target and the Bulldogs physically beat him up.
Florida’s Big Three — Rainey, Demps and Brantley — played through injuries which lessened their effectiveness. But Georgia didn’t have Shawn Williams and Kwame Geathers for a full half either. Alec Ogletree returned from his broken foot to deliver some highlight-reel hits, which strengthened what’s already been the backbone of the team.
THE BAD: Georgia’s special teams continue to underperform in an extreme way. On Saturday, the Bulldogs missed two field goals, shanked two fourth-quarter punts out of the end zone and gave up two long kickoff returns, including one for a touchdown.
Georgia knows about its problems. It has worked on them in practice. But monumental mistakes not only continue, they seem to be expanding. Drew Butler has been mostly immune to the miscues until he pooched a 24-yarder and a 32-yarder that gave Florida its last two possessions on the Georgia end of the field with the Bulldogs protecting a four-point, fourth-quarter lead.
The Bulldogs know they’ve been fortunate to survive their special teams circus this year. But that won’t continue forever. At some point, it’s going to hurt and it’s going to snatch defeat from the hands of victory.
THE UGLY: Florida started its first possession of the fourth quarter with more than a slugger’s chance to win. Butler’s 24-yard punt gave the Gators possession at the Georgia 45-yard line, but three snaps gained 3 yards and the Gators had to punt.
Butler’s 32-yard punt out of the end zone gave Florida the ball at the Georgia 36-yard line with 5:55 left in the game.
But Georgia’s defense again suffocated the Gators. Florida threw three incomplete passes and Jones ended the Gators’ final possession with a sack.
Brantley’s inability to move really showed up on those final two series when he completed just 1 of 7 passes and was sacked on his most important attempt of the game.