Rapid Reaction: Georgia pulls away from Florida to keep SEC East, Playoff dreams intact
The SEC East belongs to Georgia. Still.
For the 3rd consecutive year, the Bulldogs put away Florida 24-17 to maintain its title as the division’s heavyweight champion.
Georgia now is in position to reach the SEC Championship Game for the 3rd consecutive year. Florida is the only East program to accomplish that.
Saturday’s matchup was the 2nd consecutive year in which both teams arrived as top 10 teams. Georgia, which came it at No. 8, likely will climb, its Playoff hopes bolstered by 2nd win over a top 10 team.
Not that Florida always looked like a top 10 team Saturday, particularly in the 1st half. The Gators’ offense couldn’t stay on the field. And their defense couldn’t get off the field.
More than anything else, that was the difference.
Georgia was 8-for-11 on 3rd downs in the opening half. Sure, one conversion came courtesy of a questionable call that almost everybody not wearing red thought was an incompletion. CBS’ crew tried its best to walk the fine line between mocking the review and remembering who writes its checks. Regardless, that call led to Georgia’ only TD of the opening half.
What should have been a 6-0 lead grew to 10-0.
Every point mattered, particularly the way Florida’s offense struggled.
Florida was 0-for-4 on 3rd down and failed on its lone 4th-down attempt in the opening half.
Dan Mullen, rightfully, gets credit for being a masterful play-caller, but that 4th-down decision was odd. On 4th-and-1 (after a review wiped out a 1st down), Florida came out in an empty backfield. Kyle Trask’s throw to a covered Kyle Pitts fell incomplete.
Then again, the Gators ran for just 8 yards on 9 attempts in the opening half, its offense essentially limited to Trask hitting Pitts. Pitts had 78 receiving yards in the 1st half, nearly 70% of the Gators’ total (114).
The trend continued on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter. Georgia converted a 3rd-and-8 to help set up Rodrigo Blankenship’s 3rd field goal to push the lead to 16-3.
The Gators’ ensuing drive essentially was a microcosm of their frustrating day. After converting on 3rd down for the 1st time, the Gators had 1st-and-10 at Georgia’s 38. The play call seemed to confuse Trask, who hurried to the line, twice, relaying information. It got worse when, instead of throwing it away, he retreated, spun, retreated some more before being sacked for a 19-yard loss.
Florida punted 3 plays later.
But just when it looked like Georgia put it out of reach with a 37-yard TD run from D’Andre Swift, officials wiped it out with a holding call.
That play gave Florida new life, and this time, the Gators capitalized when Trask hit Van Jefferson for a 23-yard TD to pull within 16-10.
Georgia answered with its most impressive drive, covering 75 yards in 7 plays. One play after their 11th 3rd-down conversion, the Dawgs finally hit the big play when Fromm found Lawrence Cager all alone along the left sideline for a 52-yard TD.
Cager seemed to look around, wondering where the Gators were as he jogged the final steps to the end zone. Cager punctuated that TD with a 2-point conversion to make it 24-10, all part of a career-day in which he caught 7 balls for 132 yards.
Florida responded with a 17-play, 75-yard drive, pulling within 24-17 when Trask hit Freddie Swain for a 2-yard TD with 3:11 left.
Problem was, Florida hadn’t forced Georgia into a 3-and-out all afternoon, and it couldn’t when it needed to most.
On 3rd down — of course — Fromm hit Eli Wolf for a 22-yard gain. It was the 12th time they converted on 3rd down. It also was Fromm’s 30th attempt — and it resulted in Georgia’s 1st win when he reaches that threshold.
Georgia has made a habit of putting away teams late in games. It did the exact same thing to Florida last year. It outscored Notre Dame 16-7 in the second half in Week 4.
It all looked familiar. The offensive line kept Fromm clean. The defensive line shut down Florida’s running game. D’Andre Swift moved the chains, and Fromm made enough plays.
It was exactly how Kirby Smart drew it up.
Nobody in the East has been able to find an eraser.