JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party that appeared to be a clash for supremacy in the SEC East ended with a re-establishing of the expected order. Here are three thoughts from Georgia’s 36–17 win against Florida.
1. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm bounced back from the worst game of his college career by playing one of his best. Two weeks after he went 16-of-34 for 209 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 36–16 loss at LSU, the sophomore completed 17 of 24 passes for 209 yards with three touchdowns against Florida. Following the loss in Baton Rouge, the drumbeat increased for a larger role for freshman Justin Fields, who had been taking occasional snaps at quarterback in a situational role. Saturday, Fields warmed up on the sideline several times but didn’t get into the game.
Florida, however, did introduce its own freshman quarterback changeup. Freshman Emory Jones, who hadn’t played since the season opener against Charleston Southern, replaced Feleipe Franks on multiple occasions—usually to run the ball. Jones carried four times for 12 yards. He also fumbled once on a pitch. He threw only once, lofting a beautiful pass down the right sideline that drew a pass interference penalty.
The win allows Georgia to move on to the final round of the SEC East elimination showdown. The Bulldogs play at Kentucky next week, and thanks to Kentucky’s 15–14 win at Missouri—which featured a Wildcats touchdown on the final play—the matchup will be the SEC East title game. Because each team enters at 5–1 in SEC play with a win in hand against third-place Florida, the winner in Lexington will win the East regardless of what happens when Georgia plays Auburn and Kentucky plays Tennessee.
2. Florida mistakes helped the Bulldogs build and keep their lead. With Georgia leading 3–0 in the first quarter, Bulldogs linebacker Monty Rice stripped Florida tailback Jordan Scarlett. Georgia’s Richard LeCounte III recovered the fumble and returned it to the Florida 13-yard line. Three plays later, Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm hit Jeremiah Holloman for a 16-yard touchdown when two Florida defensive backs got confused over who was responsible for covering Holloman.
The Gators reached Georgia territory on their next possession, but quarterback Feleipe Franks threw an inexplicable pass that was intercepted by Georgia’s Tyrique McGhee. Florida’s defense immediately forced a three-and-out, but it wasn’t the last time the Gators’ defense would have to bail out the offense following a gaffe.
Georgia led 20–14 in the third quarter when Bulldogs receiver Mecole Hardman downed a punt on the one-yard line. On Florida’s first play, McGhee stripped the ball from Franks and Georgia’s Tae Crowder recovered at the one-yard line. The Florida defense stuffed the Bulldogs on two plays, and then Georgia got a a fresh set of downs when officials flagged Florida’s C.J. McWilliams for pass interference in the end zone. Florida coach Dan Mullen got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty arguing the call, and the Bulldogs got the ball at the half-yard line. Florida’s defense then stuffed three runs for no gain and forced the Bulldogs to kick a field goal to go up 23–14. That sequence produced one of the oddest drive summaries in recent memory: six plays, zero yards, three minutes, 58 seconds.
3. Both teams suffered critical injuries in the first half. The Gators, already thin at cornerback since Marco Wilson tore his ACL against Kentucky on Sept. 8, lost cornerback C.J. Henderson in Saturday’s first quarter. Before the season, Mullen identified cornerback as one of Florida’s thinnest positions. With both presumed starters out, Florida had players better suited to play safety covering some of Georgia’s best receivers.
Meanwhile, Georgia sophomore left tackle Andrew Thomas appeared to injure his ankle in the first half. The Bulldogs’ first solution was to move freshman Cade Mays from right guard to left tackle and replace Mays at right guard with freshman Trey Hill. That didn’t last long. The Bulldogs started the second half with Mays back at right guard and senior Kendall Baker at left tackle. Thomas returned late in the game to replace Baker. Georgia guard Ben Cleveland, who hasn’t played since breaking a bone in his leg against Missouri, made the trip to Jacksonville but did not play.