NCF Nation: Dawgs-Gators-102911

Different mindset for streaking Dawgs

October, 29, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Even after six consecutive wins, nobody is ready to classify Georgia as a great football team.

The harsh reality is that there are no great teams in the SEC’s Eastern Division, and at this point, finding one that belongs in the “very good” category might be a stretch.

But if you’re looking for resilient teams, teams that stay the course and teams that genuinely like a good scrap, then these Bulldogs are undoubtedly your team.

After being left for dead the second week of the season, No. 22 Georgia took its biggest step yet toward grinding its way into the SEC championship game with a come-from-behind 24-20 victory over archrival Florida at EverBank Field on Saturday.

“It’s just an amazing feeling, the camaraderie that we feel and the way this team fights,” Georgia senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “We feel like we can’t be stopped right now.”

The Bulldogs (6-2, 5-1) have won six in a row since starting the season 0-2. It hasn’t always been pretty along the way, and there are more than a few warts with this team. For starters, see special teams.

But they’ve been lights out on defense, make the plays they need to on offense and are suddenly in great shape in the East race.

South Carolina owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, but still has to play at Arkansas next week and then comes home to face Florida on Nov. 12. Georgia’s remaining two SEC games are home against Auburn on Nov. 12 and home against Kentucky on Nov. 19.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia's Aaron Murray
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw both of his touchdowns against Florida on fourth-down plays.
“The only thing we can do is take care of our business, but this team has done that for six games in a row now,” said Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had a monster game with four sacks and a forced fumble.

Georgia sacked Florida quarterback John Brantley six times and made some nice adjustments after the Gators (4-4, 2-4) opened the game with a 72-yard swing pass to Jeff Demps.

Brantley, limping around on a sprained ankle that had kept him out of the past two games, managed just 19 passing yards in the second half. That’s after throwing for 226 yards in the first half.

The Gators, who led 17-3 five minutes into the second quarter, were held to just one first down in the second half, as the Bulldogs took over the game defensively.

“They got a couple of plays on us early on, but we clamped down in the second half,” Boykin said. “And after we kept stopping them time after time, we knew we had their number.”

Speaking of having a team’s number, Florida had owned this rivalry for much of the past two decades.

In fact, it was only the Bulldogs’ fourth victory over the Gators in the past 22 meetings.

“Everyone has been saying how lopsided the series with Florida has been over the years, but this team was 0-0 going into this game,” said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw both of his touchdown passes on fourth-down plays. “Now, we’re 1-0.”

Ending the Gators’ stranglehold was a huge relief for Georgia coach Mark Richt, who was 2-8 in this rivalry.

As the final seconds ticked down, Richt’s 15-year-old son, Zach, jumped into his arms and hugged Richt’s neck. It was only six weeks ago that Richt’s seat was scorching after the back-to-back losses to Boise State and South Carolina, and even some of the most loyal Georgia fans were wondering if Richt’s time in Athens was up.

“I know it was just a ballgame, but it seemed like a lot more than that,” Richt said. “Just to see our players and fans celebrate, in this place especially, was awesome.”

Several of the Georgia players took victory laps around the field celebrating with the crowd, which by the time the game ended, was decidedly red and black.

Jones gave an assist to former Florida coach Urban Meyer for giving him a little extra motivation.

The Gators heavily recruited Jones out of high school, and Jones can still remember something Meyer told him during the recruiting process.

“He told me, ‘If you don’t come to Florida, we’re going to beat Georgia every year,’ ” recounted Jones, who transferred to Georgia from USC. “I had that in the back of my mind all day today. A lot of the guys on the team did. This was our time.”

The common denominator in Georgia’s turnaround this season has been its mental toughness.

This is a team that’s not easily discouraged, and a lot of that goes back to a defense that doesn’t get the publicity that SEC brethren Alabama and LSU do, but is nonetheless locking down on opponents.

“We love going out there and pulling our team out of situations, because we’re going to fight to the death on this defense,” said Jones, who now has eight sacks on the season.

Even among the Georgia fans, Boykin said he could sense a lot of doubt this past week. He understands why. The past two Georgia teams to win SEC championships (in 2002 and 2005) found a way to leave this stadium after losing to the Gators.

“Everybody knew what this game was about,” Boykin said. “You had to prepare like it was just another game, but it’s not another game. It’s never just another game.

“Our mindset was that we were going to get it done no matter what.”

It’s a mindset that seems to be working just fine for these Dawgs.

Video: Georgia LB Jarvis Jones

October, 29, 2011

Linebacker Jarvis Jones talks to Chris Low about Georgia’s 24-20 victory over Florida.

Final: Georgia 24, Florida 20

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There is no such thing as an unsightly victory in this rivalry, especially if you're of the Georgia persuasion.

The No. 22 Bulldogs didn't win any style points Saturday, but they did take a huge step toward winning the Eastern Division championship by slugging their way past Florida in a 24-20 victory that was a long time coming for the Bulldogs in this series.

Georgia (6-2, 5-1) won for only the fourth time in the last 22 meetings between these two schools and snapped a three-game losing streak to its arch-rival.

More importantly, the Bulldogs won their sixth straight game after opening the season 0-2 and will be rooting hard for South Carolina to lose later Saturday night at Tennessee or at Arkansas the following week or to Florida on Nov. 12.

The Gamecocks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker based on their 45-42 win against the Bulldogs the second week of the season.

Special teams play was a disaster for Georgia, but the Bulldogs' defense rose to the challenge time and time again.

The Gators (4-4, 2-4) managed just one first down in the second half. Jeff Demps had a 72-yard catch and run on the first play of the game, but Florida was held to just 154 total yards the rest of the way.

Senior quarterback John Brantley returned for the Gators after missing the last two games with a high ankle sprain and had success throwing the ball in the first half. But it was obvious he was hurting in the second half and was noticeably limping.

Sacked six times in the game, Brantley had 226 passing yards at the half, but managed just 19 more after the break.

Jarvis Jones had four of the Bulldogs' six sacks, including one on fourth down in the final minutes to seal the win.

Running game heating up for Dawgs

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Georgia freshman running back Isaiah Crowell might be out of the game with a bruised shin, but the Bulldogs' running game hasn't disappeared.

Junior Richard Samuel, who's gone from running back to linebacker and now back to running back in his career, turned in some of his best work in a long time in Georgia's touchdown drive that gave it a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter.

Samuel was able to make some yards after contact, but Georgia's offensive line also looked like it was starting to get the best of Florida in that drive.

The Bulldogs, who didn't run the ball all that well early, have stuck with it and at least had some success. The Gators, meanwhile, had minus-26 rushing yards going into the third quarter. Florida quarterback John Brantley has been sacked five times, but the Florida running backs had combined for just 26 yards on nine carries entering the final quarter.

It's hard to win a game of this magnitude when you can't run the ball.

Special teams killing Bulldogs

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If Georgia goes on to lose this game to Florida (again), the Bulldogs will look back on some shoddy special-teams play as one of the big reasons why.

In a lot of ways, it's been a complete meltdown for the Bulldogs on special teams.

Kicker Blair Walsh has missed a pair of field goal attempts from 37 and 33 yards and has now missed 10 field goals this season. He's the same guy who was a Lou Groza Award finalist two years ago.

The Bulldogs have been equally bad on kickoff return coverage. Florida's Jeff Demps has returned one kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, and Andre Debose set up a field goal with a 63-yard kickoff return, giving the Gators a 20-17 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Georgia's defense hasn't played that poorly, but hasn't gotten any help from its special-teams units.

Georgia's Aaron Murray takes big hit

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray took a big hit while trying to scramble midway through the third quarter and landed hard on his left side.

Florida defensive end Sharrif Floyd landed on top of Murray, who was slow to get up and then went directly to the sideline, where he was checked on by the Bulldogs' medical staff.

Halftime: Florida 17, Georgia 10

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida leads No. 22 Georgia 17-10 at the half Saturday at EverBank Field.

Here's a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: Florida looked like it might go into the half up 17-3 and had dominated the game up until that point. But Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, playing in his first game since the opener, forced Chris Rainey to fumble, and Bacarri Rambo recovered at the Florida 25. The Bulldogs capitalized when Aaron Murray lobbed one up for Michael Bennett on a fourth-and-5 play, and Bennett pulled in a 20-yard touchdown with 1:28 to play.

Stat of the half: Florida quarterback John Brantley, making his return to the lineup, threw for 226 yards in the first half. That's 2 yards fewer than the Gators threw in their last two games combined.

Stat of the half II: Each team lost a turnover in the first half. But in the previous three games in this series, all Florida wins, the Gators held a 12-1 advantage in turnover ratio.

Player of the half: Brantley was 10-of-20 passing for 226 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed.

Best call: After missing a field goal on its opening possession, Florida decided to go for it on fourth-and-19 in the first quarter, and Brantley hit Reed on a 31-yard touchdown pass.

All too familiar scene for Georgia fans

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you're a Georgia fan, you've seen this movie a few times.

To be specific, 18 times in the last 21 years.

Florida is dominating this football game right now, and the Bulldogs are fortunate it's as close as it is.

Senior quarterback John Brantley has obviously made a huge difference, but the Gators have been better in every phase in surging to a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

Special-teams play, which was a disaster for Georgia two weeks ago against Vanderbilt, has again been a problem.

Florida's Jeff Demps went 99 yards untouched for a touchdown on a kickoff return to make it a 14-3 game. Demps nearly broke the opening kickoff all the way, although it was called back for a penalty.

Give some props to Florida's defense, too. The Bulldogs haven't been able to run the ball at all.

With Georgia freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell out, Florida has no respect for any of the Bulldogs' other receivers in terms of being able to get deep and is loading the box to stop the run.

Gators get spark from Brantley

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida was looking for a lift, and so far, so good.

The Gators have been a different team with John Brantley at quarterback. He's clearly not 100 percent coming off the high ankle sprain and hasn't been real nimble, but he's been accurate and made the play of the game thus far.

His 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed on fourth-and-19 staked Florida to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The senior showed great awareness on the play and stepped way up in the pocket after getting heavy pressure on both edges and threw a strike to Reed.

With Brantley back at the helm, the Gators' passing game all of a sudden has some pop. He's already thrown for 164 yards. That's after the Gators were held to a total of 228 passing yards in their last two games combined while Brantley was injured.

It's also noteworthy that Brantley went to Reed. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis really likes Reed, and with Brantley back in the lineup, look for the Gators to go to Reed even more, especially now that he's healthy.

John Brantley starts for Gators

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The drama is over.

John Brantley, coming back from a high ankle sprain, started at quarterback for Florida after not warming up with the rest of the team.

Not only did Brantley start, but the Gators went with an empty set backed up on their own goal line on their first play, and Brantley threw a short flip to Jeff Demps, who turned it into a 72-yard gain.

John Brantley dressed for coin flip

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida quarterback John Brantley is dressed and meeting with the Georgia captains at midfield for the coin toss.
His right ankle is heavily taped.

Brantley not warming up with team

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida senior quarterback John Brantley is not warming up with the rest of the team, casting doubt about his status for Saturday's game.

Earlier, while the Gators' players were out stretching, Brantley was seen on the side throwing some. But when the team went through its pregame regimen, Brantley was nowhere on the field.

True freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett lined up with the first team, but fellow true freshman Jeff Driskel also took a lot of snaps.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said Thursday that Brantley would start and play in the game, although Muschamp said he didn't know how long Brantley would play or how effective he would be coming off the high ankle sprain.

Brantley hasn't played since the Alabama game on Oct. 1 when he hurt his ankle just before halftime.

With Brantley out, the Gators haven't scored more than 11 points during their three-game losing streak.

It's still the Cocktail Party

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- I realize we're not supposed to use the name anymore, and I understand why.

But nothing in college football quite compares to the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

The politically correct name for it is the Florida-Georgia football game, but the real fun is out in the parking lots surrounding EverBank Field.

Man, talk about a party.

Everywhere you look, there are tents. Orange tents. Blue tents. Tents with neutral colors.

And the only thing that outnumbers coolers are the leather boots being worn by the coeds.

Some of the coolers are actually motorized and on wheels ... with some guy dressed in orange and blue driving it through the parking lots.

Another guy didn't just have his face painted. He had his whole head painted with big "G's" on each side and a thick white stripe going down the middle of his head.

If you were far enough away, you would have sworn he was wearing a Georgia helmet.

The best jersey sighting was a black No. 30 Georgia jersey with "Muschamp" on the back.

The best move of the day was by me. I left my hotel room at 9:45 a.m. and cruised right to the stadium with virtually no traffic. I learned my lesson in 2007. I left three hours before the 3:30 kickoff ... and just barely made kickoff.

There's nothing like sitting on Union Street for two hours.

But, hey, those days are behind me. I got here early today and am glad I did.

The game is always a treat. The party's even better.

Georgia hurting at receiver

October, 29, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Freshman Malcolm Mitchell isn't the only Georgia receiver that didn't make the trip.

Senior Israel Troupe also isn't on the dress roster, meaning the Bulldogs are down to four scholarship receivers for the Florida game.

Juniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown are the probable starters. But after those two, it's redshirt freshman Michael Bennett and true freshman Chris Conley.

In other words, the Bulldogs don't need to get anybody hurt at the receiver position Saturday.

Video: Georgia-Florida preview

October, 29, 2011

Chris Low previews today’s SEC matchup from Everbank Field.