ATHENS — Georgia’s 17-9 win over Florida on Saturday was impressive on multiple levels. The Bulldogs overwhelmed the Gators defensively, got timely plays in the running and passing games against one of the nation’s best defenses and scored an elusive victory over a Top 3 opponent.
But it will all be for naught if Georgia can’t close the deal the next two weeks. Yes, the Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) are in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. But a loss to Ole Miss this Saturday or to Auburn the next week would make for a gnarly wipeout.
“(The Florida) victory doesn’t mean anything unless we keep winning,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. “We know we’ve got to win. We know we’ve got to continue to play like we did this last game to give us the best chance.”
All Georgia did Saturday was give itself the tiebreaker over Florida should both teams finish the season with one SEC loss. South Carolina, which beat the Bulldogs 35-7 on Oct. 6, has since lost two games. Simply put, Georgia has to win out.
Enter Ole Miss, a name that might have brought forth a snicker in recent years but shouldn’t now. The Rebels are in the midst of a turnaround under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. After losing 16 consecutive SEC games over the past two seasons, Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) just won its second in a row, 30-27 over Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Afterward the last-second win, Ole Miss players were talking a lot about “believing” and “winning out,” and they’re excited about testing themselves against a Top 10 team on the road.
“We’re just getting better and better every day,” Ole Miss wide receiver Randall Mackey told reporters. “We’re trying to go to a bowl game and that’s the main thing. But we’re trying to win out.”
Richt spent Sunday afternoon watching video of the Rebels and he can understand their confidence.
“They’ve got every reason to believe they can win out,” richt said. “They’ve got a really good team. They very easily could have won the (Texas) A&M game and it’d be three games (in a row) that they’ve won. That’s what happens when you start tasting success. You get excited and start believing and that’s what’s happening right now. When a team has a lot of momentum, they’re hard to beat.”
If Georgia is to maintain its own momentum, it will need to generate a defensive effort similar to the one it displayed in Jacksonville. The Rebels come into Saturday’s game averaging 32.4 points and 430 yards offense a game and the 6-foot-5, 210-pound quarterback Bo Wallace has proved masterful at executing Freeze’s fast-tempo, spread attack. Wallace, a junior college transfer, has passed for 1,649 yards and 10 touchdowns and is an elusive runner as well.
Florida’s Jeff Driskel brought similar attributes into this past Saturday’s game and was sacked five times and committed four turnovers. The Bulldogs need more of the same this week.
“We should have been playing like this all year,” said outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who accounted for 13 tackles, four sacks, two fumble recoveries and forced two other fumbles. “We just have to give everything we have in every game.”
This past Saturday’s ferocity may be tough to duplicate. On Sunday Richt called it “one of the most intense games I’ve ever coached from start to finish.” Georgia was penalized 14 times for 132 yards and Florida 10 for 95, many of those of the personal foul variety.
“You want intensity but you want intensity with discipline,” Richt said.
NOTES: Richt did not have an update on starting fullback Merritt Hall, who sprained an ankle on Georgia’s first offensive play against Florida and did not return. “We’re hopeful,” he said of Hall returning this week. But Richt praised Zander Ogletree was a “mistake-free” game filling in for Hall. . . . Richt confirmed reports that the Bulldogs prayed as a team after the Florida game for South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a horrific knee injury on Saturday. . . Richt said he heard but hadn’t seen anything on the pregame skirmish that resulted in Florida strength coach Jeff Dillman shoving a Georgia player. “I’m not really worried about that right now,” he said. . . . CBS picked up Saturday’s game for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. . . . Georgia moved up to No. 6 in the USA today/Coaches and Harris polls and 7th in The Associated Press rankings.
GEORGIA-FLORIDA GAME COVERAGE