Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones provided plenty of nightmare fuel for Florida in the Bulldogs' 17-9 win Saturday. (AP)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's eight-game winning streak is snapped, and Georgia has a winning streak in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party rivalry for the first time since 1987-89, following a 17-9 victory at EverBank Field. Fears early in the week that lingering weather issues brought on by Hurricane Sandy would devalue the quality of play were for nothing, but based solely on the work of both offenses tonight, you might have thought this game was played in a torrential downpour.
"I know it's a game they'll remember for the rest of their lives," said Georgia coach Mark Richt in his postgame conference. That is certainly true, but a few of those memories on the offensive side of the ball may well pop up in nightmares.
Florida and Georgia combined for five interceptions and 24 penalties resulting in the loss of 227 yards. The Gators converted 7-of-16 third downs (and failed to convert their one fourth-down attempt), while the Dawgs went 1-of-10. Florida also added six fumbles, four of which it lost for an ignominious total of six turnovers. Neither team walks away clean from this one, but Georgia now controls its destiny in the SEC East despite an earlier blowout loss to South Carolina, while a Florida team that had risen to No. 2 in the BCS standings will need help to even play in its conference title game. The truly maddening aspect of tonight's game was a widespread inability to fully capitalize on mistakes, despite both sides having opportunities on a number of possessions.
"I've said all season long, we're not a team that has a lot of margin of error," Gators coach Will Muschamp said afterward. The Bulldogs made a gracious effort to pad that margin tonight, but he's got a point: "Six turnovers, wow. That's tough to overcome.
"That's the end of the game, in my opinion -- six turnovers."
Following a not-unexpected pregame scuffle (yes, there's video), early momentum seemed firmly on the red-and-black sideline. Jeff Driskel fumbled the ball on Florida's first play from scrimmage, recovered, then promptly re-fumbled on third down upon experiencing the first of five sacks he would sustain throughout the day. Jarvis Jones recovered for Georgia, his first big play in an outing that would end with a career-high 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. "I don't even know for sure what all [Jones] did," said Richt, "but I know he did some big things. It's unfortunate he hasn't been healthy, but he just gets right back up." Sleep tight, America, in sweet terror of a healthy Jarvis Jones.
After taking over at Florida's 20-yard line, Georgia scored in three plays and fewer than 90 seconds on a 10-yard Todd Gurley run. (Gurley then drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for Gator-chomping in the end zone, and we will save our thousand-word screed on why these continue to be the stupidest of all stupid rules for another day.)
Did you enjoy that first, fast, responsive touchdown? Did you gobble it all down immediately, or store some of it away in your cheek like a squirrel settling in for a long winter? We hope so, because that marked one of only two successful trips to the end zone in the entire game, and the second wouldn't come until midway through the fourth quarter. The 2012 season marks the first time since 1988 that Georgia has both beaten Florida and prevented the Gators from scoring a single touchdown.
Here's a brief summation of what happened for the rest of the first quarter: Florida turned the ball over on downs; Georgia punted rapidly; Florida bobbled that punt return but recovered only to mount an even shorter unsuccessful drive of its own; Loucheiz Purifoy sort of twirled and fell down to avoid being hit by Florida's next punt; Aaron Murray threw into triple coverage and got intercepted; Florida put 12 men on the field for first down and Jeff Driskel was sacked, again, and fumbled, again. Yes, this all happened before the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, with Georgia mid-drive in the Gators' red zone, Murray threw a dart across the middle, which ricocheted off the hands of intended receiver Rantavious Wooten and into the waiting arms of Florida free safety Josh Evans. The Gators took over at their own nine-yard line after intercepting Murray, but settled for a 38-yard field goal. Given the offensive ineptitude to this point, and considering how deep they were in their own territory, we must accept that this was a tall task. So let's try something simpler: On Georgia's very next drive, Murray was intercepted again, throwing a beautiful pass to Gator Matt Elam, who was subsequently tackled by Todd Gurley after running the ball to Georgia's 11-yard line. Would you care to guess what happened next? Those offering "three-and-out and a 22-yard field goal," collect your winnings.
The half wound down with a Georgia three-and-out and with Bacarri Rambo intercepting Driskel in Georgia's end zone. Murray, through two quarters, completed 4-of-8 passing attempts, and three of those incompletions doubled as interceptions. In September, we could've called this the Reverse Geno.
If you've read this far, bless your hearts, you have a pretty good grasp of what went on in Jacksonville tonight. Georgia surrendered possession in under three minutes to begin the third quarter, got the ball right back after a Driskel interception and settled for a 29-yard field goal, despite taking over at the Florida 25-yard line. Trey Burton popped in at quarterback for the Gators, and popped right back out again after fumbling a handoff exchange on his first snap. Georgia's subsequent field goal attempt, following another three-and-out, missed from 37 yards. This is about the time we briefly gave up on football altogether to watch a bird that had wandered onto the field:
When we came to, several punts had been traded and the fourth quarter was underway. Rambo came barreling through Florida's line so fast that it looked like he'd had the whole field to get a running start on knocking Driskel's block off. The Gators would manage one more score, a 50-yard field goal, before being put away by Murray, Malcolm Mitchell and a 45-yard touchdown to bookend the game with just under eight minutes remaining. A promising final Florida drive was snuffed out by Jones, who bear-hugged Jordan Reed as Reed attempted to hurdle a defender near the goal line.