The Florida Gators rode an impressive defensive performance to a 24-10 victory in Jacksonville over the Georgia Bulldogs. How impressive? Let me count the ways.
UGA had 13 drives in the game, and Florida prevented the Bulldogs from gaining a first down on nine of them. UF did get some help on one of those drives thanks to some bad Georgia drops shortly before the half, but the point still stands. If you toss out the Bulldogs’ drive immediately preceding intermission when UF was largely playing prevent to avoid a cheap score, UGA failed to get a first down on 75 percent of its drives.
Of Georgia’s 13 drives, only two involved a first down inside Florida’s 40-yard-line. One of them was the team’s opening drive when Dominick Sanders intercepted Luke Del Rio to give the Bulldogs the ball at the Gator 25. The other was Georgia’s third drive after a coverage bust gave Terry Godwin a 38-yard pass reception to set his team up at the Florida 35. After that? Never again.
UGA ran only 11 total plays on Florida’s side of the 50. That amounts to just 21.2 percent of Georgia’s 52 total plays. Did I mention that the Bulldogs ran only 52 total plays? And lost time of possession by 15 minutes? Total plays and time of possession don’t always matter in this day and age, but when both teams employ largely traditional offenses and basically don’t ever run hurry-up, they’re telling indicators.
Florida did such a good job against the run that the Bulldogs largely abandoned it after the half. UGA ran the ball just five times in 23 plays after the break, and one of those was a Jacob Eason scramble on a called pass play. Nick Chubb finished with nine carries for 20 yards, or 2.2 yards per carry. Sony Michel ran just three times for two yards. The team’s longest run was a first half scramble by Eason for eight yards.
Speaking of Eason, Florida’s defensive front harassed him all game while its defensive backs frequently closed up throwing lanes. Eason took two sacks, completed fewer than half his passes, and seldom looked comfortable aside from a stray drive here and there. The Gators may not have picked Eason off or forced a fumble, but that was about the only thing missing from the defensive performance against him.
As for the Florida offense, it did just enough to slowly pull away throughout the game. Things began disastrously with Del Rio throwing a pick all too reminiscent of the three he had against Missouri. Georgia cashed it in, but only for a field goal. The Gators also had a false start flag on each of their first two drives after picking up eight of them against the Tigers before the bye week. On that second drive, UF got to the Bulldog 25 before Del Rio took a 15-yard sack that led to a punt two plays later.
Del Rio settled in, though, and a touchdown pass to C’yontai Lewis capped the third drive. Florida went through fits and starts as Doug Nussmeier never seemed sure if he wanted to lean on the pass or run, but the 24 points from the offense were more than enough to win.
The Gators weren’t efficient (their success rate was a subpar 35 percent), nor were they explosive—only one pass went for at least 20 yards and only two runs topped 10 yards. They did manage to convert half of their 18 third down attempts, though, which helped them control the clock and edge away from the flailing Bulldogs. UF also managed to have zero penalties in the second half, which again was a boost to the cause.
Florida took few risks in this game, once it became clear it didn’t have to. The defense had only two less-than-stellar drives, both in the first half. The Georgia offensive line has been having a bad season, but UF made it look like Swiss cheese. This victory for UF may have been a rerun of strategy from the previous coaching regime, but it looked better and felt far less stressful than many of wins from 2011-2014 were. Jim McElwain stayed committed to throwing the ball a lot longer than his predecessor, Will Muschamp, would have.
In any event, you won’t hear many complaints out of Gainesville about a two-score win over Georgia. It took some time, but Florida cleaned up some things that had been plaguing it and put together one of its most complete performances of the season. If the defense can deliver this level of play while the offense continues to find its way, we might have to adjust our expected ceiling for the team… or more precisely, raise it.