With their backs against the wall, the Florida Gators (4-3, 3-3 SEC) came through for their fans, their embattled head coach and each other, ending a three-game losing streak to their long-time rivals, the No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2 SEC), by racking up 418 rushing yards on the way to a dominant 38-20 victory on Saturday afternoon at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
Running backs junior Matt Jones and sophomore Kelvin Taylor each registered career-highs on the afternoon. Jones carried the ball 25 times for 192 yards and two touchdowns, and Taylor toted the rock 25 times for 197 yards and two scores of his own.
The duo combined for 50 carries, 389 yards and four touchdown on the afternoon, each setting career-highs for yards in a game while becoming the first pair of Gators to each rush for 120 yards or more in a single contest. Florida as a team gained 418 yards on the ground, the fifth-highest total in program history.
The victory was head coach Will Muschamp‘s first in the UF-UGA rivalry game. He entered the contest 0-7, 0-4 as a Bulldogs player and 0-3 as UF’s coach.
Moving down the field with ease on its second series of the game, Georgia kept its drive alive as quarterback Hutson Mason converted a 3rd and 6 with an 18-yard screen pass to running back Nick Chubb. Four plays later, Chubb broke outside on an inside run and avoided three defenders on his way to a 39-yard touchdown with nine minutes left in the first quarter. Chubb accounted for 94 yards on nine total touches through the first six minutes of the contest.
Florida looked to be in trouble near the end of the opening quarter after freshman QB Treon Harris fumbled the exchange on a read option with junior RB Matt Jones. However, after recovering, the Bulldogs were unable to put points on the board as 39-yard field goal attempt was pushed wide left due to heavy winds.
The Gators capitalized, calling 12 runs as part of a 14-play, 78-yard touchdown scoring drive that ended with some trickeration. After riding Taylor down the field, Florida got backed up 12 yards when Harris fell on a bad snap. Lined up for a 39-yard field goal three plays later, the Gators ran a fake with redshirt senior walk-on wideout Michael McNeely picking up the snap and scampering into the end zone untouched from 21 yards out.
The defense responded by forcing a UGA three-and-out, putting UF’s offense back on the field at its own 36-yard line. A 44-yard run by Taylor moved Florida into Georgia’s red zone, and a 13-yard completion from Harris to junior wide receiver Latroy Pittman got the Gators in scoring position. A two-yard touchdown rush by Taylor ended a five-play, 64-yard drive and gave UF its first lead in the rivalry game since the third quarter in 2011.
Florida did not waste time getting things going in the second half. Taylor gained 27 yards on four-straight carries, and Jones ended a six-play, 73-yard scoring drive with a 44-yard rushing touchdown down the left sideline.
The Gators then forced a Bulldogs three-and-out and responded with a 10-play, 56-yard scoring drive. Florida ran the ball on nine consecutive plays in the series, with big gains of 12 (Harris) and 25 yards (Jones), before redshirt senior kicker Frankie Velez connected on a 21-yard field goal to push UF ahead of UGA 24-7.
On the ensuing possession, Georgia looked poised to regain some momentum as Chubb exploded on a 39-yard run up the middle of the field. However, Florida junior defensive back Brian Poole stripped the ball from Chubb at the end of his run, and senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings fell on top of the loose ball. UF went three-and-out on its possession but was able to flip the field with a punt.
The Gators took advantage of another failed Bulldogs possession with redshirt senior WR Andre Debose bringing back a punt 38 yards down to Georgia’s 26-yard line. Florida stayed on the ground with Jones carrying the ball four times for 25 yards, scoring with a direct snap from one yard out to put the Gators ahead 31-7 with 13:49 left in the contest.
Faced with a 24-point deficit, the Bulldogs pieced together a second touchdown drive, moving 68 yards in eight plays. Mason completed 3-of-5 passes on the possession, his last to Chubb for a 10-yard touchdown off a tipped ball. UGA failed to convert the two-point try, however, and UF maintained a 31-13 lead with 11 minutes left.
A Florida three-and-out gave Georgia another opportunity to trim its deficit. The Bulldogs marched 68 yards down the field, converting a 3rd and 15 on the way, but got stalled at the Gators’ two-yard line. Mason threw incomplete on second down, fumbled the snap on third down and saw a potential touchdown reception on fourth down broken up by redshirt sophomore DB Marcus Maye.
UF delivered a crushing blow once taking possession, ending a six-play, 98-yard scoring drive with a career-long 65-yard rush for a touchdown by Taylor to put a stamp on the victory. UGA scored a third touchdown as Florida dropped into prevent defense, but it was too little too late.
The victory was the Gators’ first against a ranked opponent since Nov. 24, 2012. Florida had lost six-straight games against top 25 opponents entering Saturday’s contest. It was also the first time UF won a game with fewer than 10 completions since 1977.