The previously named World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was only a celebration for one team on Saturday as the No. 22 Georgia Bulldogs (6-2, 5-1 SEC) fought back from a 14-point deficit to defeat the Florida Gators (4-4, 2-4 SEC) 24-20 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL during the teams’ annual rivalry game.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt defeated Florida for just the third time in his 11 years with the Bulldogs, rallying his team from behind after the Gators had the momentum in their favor much of the first half.
UF lost their fourth game in the month of October and has dropped four consecutive contests for the first time since the 1988 season.
Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley returned for Florida after missing 10 quarters of action and was proficient early on before his high-ankle sprain began to wear on him. He finished the game just 12/33 for 245 yards and a touchdown. Brantley was sacked six times and barely moved the ball in the latter part of the contest.
UGA signal caller Aaron Murray, who also struggled throwing the ball at times, was 15/34 for 169 yards with two touchdowns and an early interception, recovering nicely after an early miscue and leading his team in the game’s deciding drive.
Florida started with a mix of good and bad plays on their first possession. Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey opened the game with a return to UF’s 47, but it was negated by a holding penalty. On the next play, senior RB Jeff Demps took a screen pass 72 yards; however, Florida was unable to capitalize as sophomore kicker Brad Phillips shanked a 38-yard field goal wide right.
Getting the ball back a few minutes later, Brantley led the Gators down the field with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that consisted of mostly throws and ended in a 31-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed on 4th and 19.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Georgia turned the ball back over to Florida when a pass from Murray hit running back Isaiah Crowell in the helmet and was intercepted by Gators freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson
. Florida took over in the red zone but was unable to capitalize after Brantley was sacked twice and redshirt senior transfer guard Dan Wenger
committed a false start penalty on 4th and 30.
Looking to reduce their deficit, the Bulldogs opened the second quarter with a 32-yard field goal from Blair Walsh after gaining 67 yards on 12 plays.
Kicking the ball back to the Gators, Georgia saw their deficit increase as quickly as it decreased after Demps returned the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, putting Florida back ahead double digits, 14-3.
UF failed to take full advantage of a good opportunity the next time they touched the ball. UGA punter Drew Butler’s attempt only went 26 yards, and the Gators gained just 35 yards on the ensuing possession, ending it with a 43-yard field goal.
The Bulldogs answered by moving the ball well once again, but Walsh missed a 33-yard field goal after the offense gained 61 yards. Florida took over but was pushed back following a bad snap and false start that resulted in a third-and-22. Rainey took a handoff for 13 yards but fumbled the ball and turned it over on UF’s 25.
Only gaining five yards on their first three plays, Georgia called a successful jump ball on fourth-and-five that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Murray to wide receiver Michael Bennett.
Another miscue by the Gators cost them their seven-point lead midway through the third quarter. Backed up at their own nine, Florida turned the ball back over to UGA when redshirt junior WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. fumbled a reception at UF’s own 18-yard-line.
Forced into a fourth down situation, the Bulldogs decided to go for it again and tied the game after Murray threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to WR Tavarres King.
The Gators used special teams to quickly flip the field as redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards. Florida was unable to gain a first down, however, and settled for a 40-yard field goal from Phillips to jump ahead 20-17.
Georgia drove the ball over 60 yards again on their next possession, but Walsh missed a 37-yard field goal attempt and handed the rock back to UF. The Gators had two delay of game penalties between three incomplete passes, forcing them to punt again.
The Bulldogs refused to waste another scoring opportunity, using RB Richard Samuel to drive the ball down the field before he plowed into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown to give Georgia its first lead of the game, 24-20 with 13:18 left in the contest.
UF and UGA traded possessions from that point with neither team finding much success moving the ball. Faced with a fourth-and-10 on the Bulldogs’ 46, Brantley was sacked and the Gators turned the ball over with 5:32 left to play.
Georgia ran out the clock from there, driving all the way to Florida’s one-yard-line before the clock ran out and they took their first victory over their biggest rival since 2007.
The Gators were the first team this season to score first against the Bulldogs and also became the only team to score a touchdown in the first quarter against UGA.
Roberson’s first half interception was the first of his career and the first turnover recorded by Florida since they played Kentucky at the end of September.
Three of the four offensive touchdowns scored on Saturday were converted on fourth down with both of Georgia’s coming off of fumbles by UF in their own territory.
Miscues doomed the Gators all evening. Florida committed 14 penalties for 101 yards in addition to turning the ball over twice. Brantley lost 43 yards on sacks as well as a bad snap that he was forced to fall on, and UF’s running backs ran the ball a combined 15 times for just 34 yards.
Georgia outgained Florida 37:40-22:20 in time of possession and accounted for 128 more total yards (354-226) in the contest.
The Gators hope to regroup in their homecoming game next Saturday against Vanderbilt. The contest will air live on the SEC Network at 12:21 p.m. Check your local listings.
Photo Credit: Stephen Morton/Associated Press