The play that perhaps defined Florida’s 27-3 win over Georgia Saturday afternoon was the one that killed all hope for the Bulldogs with 10:18 left in the game. With second and goal at the Florida 2, Georgia tried to roll quarterback Faton Bauta to the right, but safety Marcus Maye blitzed and got in his face. Bauta’s rushed a pass intended for Malcolm Mitchell but Jalen Tabor got a hand on the ball and tipped it to Keanu Neal who picked the ball off, setting off a mass migration to the nearest exit by Georgia fans.
“This is great, especially when the other side starts emptying out,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said after the game, adding, “I’m happy for all the Gators out there. This game means so much to them.”
With the win, the 11th-ranked Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC) all but clinched their first Southeastern Conference East Division championship since 2009. If the Gators beat Vanderbilt next week or if Vanderbilt loses one of its remaining four SEC games, Florida wins the East. For Georgia (5-3, 3-3 SEC), the loss officially ended any chance the Bulldogs have to win the SEC East. Heading into the season, Georgia was a heavy favorite to win the division and some pundits predicted the Bulldogs would make college football’s final four.
This was a day for the defense. Florida picked off four Georgia passes and held Georgia to 223 total yards – only 69 on the ground. The Bulldogs were only 2-12 on third down and 0-2 on fourth. Florida outgained Georgia 413-223.
But the defense wasn’t the only hero on this day. Special teams did their part. A Johnny Townsend punt was muffed by Georgia’s Reggie Davis at the UGa 5 with the ball squirming its way to the end zone where Nick Washington recovered for Florida’s first touchdown on the final play of the first quarter. Townsend punted five times on the day with only two returned for -4 yards.
Georgia came into the game confident it could stuff Florida’s running game, but the Gators piled up 258 yards on the ground. Kelvin Taylor ran for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns while freshman Jordan Scarlett came close to registering his first career 100-yard game with 96 net yards on 9 carries.
Treon Harris, who struggled with accuracy at times, only completed 8-19 passes but the eight completions were good for 155 yards including one for 66 yards and a touchdown to Antonio Callaway in the second quarter that stretched Florida’s lead to 13-0.
It was 20-0 at the half because on Georgia’s possession following the Harris-to-Callaway touchdown, the defense struck, forcing an interception when Alex McCalister hit the ball as it left Bauta’s hand, popping the ball into the air where Vernon Hargreaves III picked it off and ran it back to the Georgia 5. It took two plays for Taylor to find the end zone to stun Georgia and the crowd for a 20-0 Florida lead with 5:06 left in the first half.
Georgia’s only score of the game came in the third quarter, a 27-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan with 10:21 left in the third quarter, but even that could be viewed as a victory for the Florida defense. Georgia recovered a Treon Harris fumble at the UF 25 and moved the ball 16 yards but the defense forced a Bauta incompletion on third down and Georgia brought on Morgan to get points on the board.
It was after the Gators went for a fourth down at the Georgia 11 rather than kick a field goal that Georgia put together its only sustained drive of the game, 9 plays for 86 yards and a first-and-goal at the UF 2. That’s where the UF defense came up with the play of the game to snuff out the threat.
Following that crucial stop, the Gators added one more touchdown for good measure, driving 80 yards in 5 plays with Taylor getting his second TD of the game on a 16-yard run that was set up by a 60-yard burst by Scarlett.
The Gators return to Gainesville next Saturday to face Vanderbilt while Georgia will face Kentucky in Lexington.
FLORIDA 6, GEORGIA 0; 0:00
On the final play of the quarter, Florida punted but Georgia’s Reggie Davis muffed the kick at the UGa 5 and the ball skirted into the end zone where Nick Washington recovered for the Gators for the first score of the game. Austin Hardin’s extra point was blocked. In the first quarter, the Gators outgained Georgia 84-26. The Gators moved the ball well enough for four first downs and held Georgia without a single first down and only four rushing yards. On Georgia’s second possession, the Bulldogs had two cracks at gaining a single yard for a first down but on both second and third down, Brendan Douglas was stuffed for no gain.
FLORIDA 13, GEORGIA 0; 5:06
Treon Harris had thrown nine straight incomplete passes when he lofted the perfect pass to Antonio Callaway who had beaten freshman safety Jordan Abram down the sideline. Callaway slowed just a tad, made the catch and then walked into the end zone as Abram fell down to complete a 66-yard scoring play. Harris started out in the pocket, drifted to his left and eluded two Georgia pass rushers. Seeing Callaway behind Abram, Harris squared his shoulders and lofted an on-the-money pass to Callaway for the TD with 5:06 to go. Hardin’s extra point made it a 13-0 game.
FLORIDA 20, GEORGIA 0; 2:39
Following the Harris-to-Callaway touchdown pass, the Florida defense came up big. After stuffing Georgia’s running game on consecutive plays, Bauta dropped back to pass but as his arm went forward, Alex McCalister got a hand on the ball, popping it up in the air. At the 25, Vernon Hargreaves came down with the ball for UF and wove his way on a 20-yard return to the Georgia 5. On Florida’s second play, Taylor went around the left side behind a nice block by Bryan Cox Jr. for a 3-yard touchdown run with 2:39 left in the half. Hardin added the extra point for a 20-0 lead that stood at the half.
FIRST HALF STATS: The Gators outgained Georgia 212-94 in the first half, rushing for 115 yards and throwing for 97. Taylor carried 16 times for 91 yards to lead the UF attack. Harris was only 3-12 passing the ball, but he got the big pass to Callaway for the bulk of his yardage. Georgia netted 15 rushing yards and 79 passing.
GEORGIA 3, FLORIDA 20; 10:21
Florida’s first turnover since the Tennessee game gave Georgia a golden opportunity to get into the end zone, but the Florida defense rose up to hold the Bulldogs to a field goal. Georgia took over at the Florida 25 with 12:27 to go in the third quarter when Harris had the ball punched out on third down. The Bulldogs were able to move the ball to the Florida 9 but the drive stalled and Marshall Morgan came on to kick a 27-yard field goal with 10:21 to go.
FLORIDA 27, GEORGIA 3; 7:10
Following Keanu Neal’s interception of Bauta in the end zone, the Gators needed only five plays to drive 80 yards for the touchdown that put the final nail in the Georgia coffin. Taylor’s 16-yard touchdown run with 7:10 to go in the game was set up by a 60-yard sprint to the Georgia 6 by freshman Jordan Scarlett, who turned in Florida’s longest rushing play of the season. After a holding call on first-and-goal, Taylor beat the Georgia defense to the corner and then turned on the jets to go untouched into the end zone. Hardin’s extra point was the exclamation point on Florida’s 7th win of the season.