Rapid Reaction: Georgia demolishes Florida behind flurry of turnovers just before halftime
Nolan Smith made a name for himself on Saturday in Jacksonville.
He made a pair of game-changing plays late in the first half to rescue a sluggish Georgia offense, and they jump-started the Bulldogs to a 34-7 victory over Florida. The only suspense late in the game was the Gators’ streak of 417 games with a point, which is the longest in FBS history. It was extended to 418 thanks to an 11-play, 89-yard drive as Emory Jones scored on a 2-yard rushing play with 2:49 left in the game.
Smith first made a game-changing play on Anthony Richardson when he grabbed the ball away from the Florida quarterback with 2:22 remaining in the second quarter. One play later, Georgia saw RB James Cook punch in a touchdown from 11 yards out.
Then, to continue the momentum, on the second play of the next drive, Georgia got another huge play from Smith on an interception of Richardson. Georgia then produced another one-play scoring drive when Stetson Bennett found Kearis Jackson for a 36-yard touchdown, as Georgia built a 24-0 lead at halftime. The final score came on a back-breaking pick-6 from Nakobe Dean, who returned an interception 50 yards down the sideline.
That was Georgia’s fourth first half shutout this season, as the suffocating defense has allowed just one touchdown in the first half.
That defense helped Georgia faithful forget the slow start which began with an intentional grounding penalty against Bennett, and then a missed field goal attempt early in the game. That was the most positive drive for either team in the first quarter, as they otherwise traded punts, and the defenses bottled up any chance of a big play. Florida also had a missed field goal attempt to close the first quarter.
Just before the huge momentum shift, Florida tried for a first down on fourth down and 13 with 3:39 left in the second quarter, but Richardson couldn’t connect with Jacob Copeland, and the Gators’ drive of 11 plays sputtered. Then it appeared that Florida would re-gain momentum when Bennett threw an interception that was picked off by Rashad Torrence II near the Florida goal line.
Georgia’s win continued a recent theme in the rivalry, as 8 of the last 9 games between the rivals have been decided by at least 2 touchdowns.
The Bulldogs have even more to play for this time around. It’s the first time Georgia is ranked No. 1 against Florida in nearly 80 years and can move a step closer to winning the SEC East for the fourth time in the last five years. That step can be completed if Kentucky loses to Mississippi State later on Saturday.
Georgia has won 12 in a row since getting steamrolled in Jacksonville last year. The Gators rang up 571 yards – the most in Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s time in Athens — against a defense that played without star nose tackle Jordan Davis and 2 other starters.