The resiliency that has seen Georgia bounce back from an 0-2 start to challenge for the SEC East was never more evident than Saturday in Jacksonville, scene of so many Bulldog collapses in recent years.
Down by 14 points to Florida, it would have been easy and all too familiar for the Dogs to fold, but they clawed their way back into the game thanks to a stellar second-half effort by the defense that saw the Gators get just 32 yards of offense and one first down after halftime.
Florida converted only two of 13 third-down plays, and the Gators actually wound up with negative yards rushing for the day, the second time this season the Georgia defense has achieved that remarkable feat.
Linebacker Jarvis Jones was pretty much the unanimous choice for player of the game with his five solo tackles and four sacks.
The defense didn’t do it alone, of course. On a day that saw another nearly disastrous performance by Georgia’s special teams unit — with even stalwart Drew Butler having a bad day — and battered quarterback Aaron Murray having accuracy problems in the second half, the Dogs’ offense did just enough to win thanks to some clutch performances by receivers Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Tavarres King and some gritty running by backup tailback Richard Samuel, who powered the winning drive when starter Isaiah Crowell was on the sideline, nicked up again.
As the clock wound down, it looked like Samuel might get into the end zone one more time as he drove the ball down to Florida’s 1-yard line. Here’s hoping the injury he sustained on that last play of the game that saw him helped off the field isn’t serious.
Kudos also have to go to Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo for some gutsy calls, including the unexpected pass to Conley that iced the game, as well as going for it successfully three times on fourth down, with two of those plays resulting in touchdown passes.
This was a big one, and not just because it allowed Georgia to stay in contention for the division title. As Richt put it after thanking the Lord for what happened, “I know it’s just a ball game, but it sure felt like more than a ballgame.”
Winning in Jacksonville has been an elusive goal for UGA teams over the past two decades and the Dogs certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves in this one, with a shaky defensive start, more red zone problems and missed field goal attempts, and giving up long kick returns.
But they battled back and prevailed. Richt, who all week had downplayed the pressure on his team to buck recent history in Jacksonville, admitted afterward that “it was certainly more than just another game.”
True, the Gators have now lost four straight and aren’t the powerhouse of the Tim Tebow years, but too many times in the past we’ve seen Georgia teams with superior talent somehow find a way to lose in Jacksonville. Last year, for example.
This time, they somehow found a way to overcome adversity and put that history behind them.
There’s a lot of football left to play, but a season that began in a dismal fashion now is on the verge of turning into something truly special.
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