JACKSONVILLE — Never mind all that “soft defense” talk. Georgia had Jarvis Jones back in the lineup.
The Bulldogs’ dynamic outside linebacker, who has missed two games with injuries and been hobbled much of the season’s first half, was feeling good and healthy on Saturday. Just ask Florida, which felt his wrath all night.
The 2011 All-American terrorized the Gators all night, finishing with 13 tackles, three quarterback sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Jones wasn’t the only reason, but he was a big reason the No. 10-ranked Bulldogs were able to knock off the No. 2 Gators 17-9 Saturday night at EverBank Field.
The victory gives puts the Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) into the driver’s seat to repeat as SEC East champions and represent the division in the SEC championship game in the Georgia Dome. Georgia plays host to Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) next Saturday and closes out the conference slate at Auburn (1-7, 0-6) on Nov. 10. Since the Bulldogs now own the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Gators need to beat Missouri next week and have Georgia lose one of its final two.
“All we’ve done is give ourselves a chance to play Ole Miss and have it mean something,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
It was only fitting that Jones would make the play of the game. With the Bulldogs’ clinging to an eight-point lead in the final minutes, Florida tight end Jordan Reed hauled in a pass and was running inside the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line. But Jones hadn’t given up on the play. Catching Reed from behind, Jones tomahawked the football loose and it bounded into the end zone. There, cornerback Sanders Commings jumped on the ball and cradled it in the back of the end zone for a touchback.
“I didn’t really realize exactly what Jarvis had done until they told me and I looked at the line,” Richt said. “That’s on a bum ankle and I know his groin’s not really 100 percent yet. He really led for us tonight on the field But he was more vocal than I’ve ever seen him. He really wanted this one badly. I’m just happy he’s a Georgia Bulldog.”
Jones emerged from the locker room later than his teammates, who were being interviewed in a ground-floor concourse. He again had to receive post-game medical treatment. But he spoke humbly about what had just occurred.
“I had a good game, but all of us had a big game,” said the junior from Columbus. “We were clicking on all cylinders. We held the No. 2 team in the nation without a touchdown the whole game. That’s a compliment for us as a defense. I just hope we continue to play this way the rest of the season and keep challenging each other week in and week out.”
Jones’ teammates weren’t as modest in talking about him.
“Jarvis Jones is a beast; that’s a beast right there,” senior linebacker Mike Gilliard said. “He’s a hard worker; he’s a passionate, passionate guy; he loves this sport. He came out here and showed up like we knew he would. Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”
“Jarvis is a great player, an outstanding player, whatever you want to say,” sophomore Malcolm Mitchell said. “To come off an ankle sprain the way he did. That’s not an easy thing to come back from. Then to do what he did, I’d pick him No. 1 in the draft if it was me.”
It was a total defensive effort by the Bulldogs beyond Jones’ play. Georgia held the Gators without a touchdown in this series for the first time since 1988 when coach Vince Dooley’s last team beat them 26-3. Florida had six turnovers – four fumbles and two interceptions – and managed just 266 total yards.
It’s no coincidence that the performance came in the same week that Williams, the senior safety and de facto defensive captain, came out and said the Bulldogs were playing too soft on defense and without the same kind of passion they did the year before. Georgia returned eight starters from last season’s unit, which finished fifth in the nation in total yardage.
“Our guys were very serious about playing with intensity and playing with some physicality,” Richt said. “They had been accused of some things that guys don’t like to be accused of and I think that probably helped motivate them.”
Richt was pretty motivated, too. The Florida series has been one that has dogged his tenure as head coach. Saturday’s win was just his fourth in 12 seasons over the Gators.
A jovial Richt remained on the field for nearly 15 minutes, working his way from the north end of the stadium to the south, giving fans the thumbs-up sign, shaking hands and chatting up hundreds who had come down to the front row.
“You need to enjoy these moments,” Richt explained. “As long as the fans were going to stuck around, I was going to stick around… . When you have a victory like that against a great team and your fanbase is there, I want to stick around and enjoy it with them. I wanted our players to enjoy it and I wanted to enjoy it. We wanted to celebrate.”
Georgia did manage to generate some offense, though it was more timely than prolific. Quarterback Aaron Murray had a season-high three interceptions – all in the first-half after having only four all season – but hooked up with Malcolm Mitchell on a 45-yard touchdown pass with 7:11 remaining in the fourth quarter that have the Bulldogs some breathing room.
And freshman Todd Gurley provided the Bulldogs just the spark they needed in the run game. He rushed for 118 yards on 27 carries and scored on a 10-yard run, his 11th TD of the season. In all, Georgia eke out just 273 yards.
Williams, for what it’s worth, finished with six tackles and a tackle for loss. Bacarri Rambo and Damian Swann each recorded interception.
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was sacked five times and was 14-of-26 passing. Mike Gillisee led the Gators with 77 yards rushing.
“I’ve said all season we’re not a team that has a lot of margin of error,” Muschamp said. “Six turnovers, wow, that’s hard to overcome.”
GEORGIA-FLORIDA GAME COVERAGE