No. 1 Georgia took a big step toward the SEC Championship Game and College Football Playoff on Saturday with a 43-20 win over Florida as the Bulldogs entered the most difficult portion of a relatively light schedule with a dominant win over a potent rival. The Gators struck first with a game-opening touchdown drive, but the Bulldogs scored on their next four possessions as they took command with the help of their defense and special teams.
Georgia racked up seven tackles for loss in the first half alone and blocked a punt for a safety while scoring 26 unanswered points entering the break. Here are some of the key points to know and a few takeaways from the action.
- UGA's 43 points were its most against Florida since 1982. Georgia has now won six of the past seven in the series and three straight by 22+ points.
- The Bulldogs seized momentum with a dominant second quarter that featured a Florida fumble, a blocked punt for a safety and a key fourth-down stop.
- Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey enjoyed a breakout performance with six catches for a career-high 135 yards and a touchdown as he continued working his way back from injury.
Georgia offense operates through Carson Beck
Georgia lost star tight end Brock Bowers to an ankle injury two weeks ago, but the offense didn't seem to miss a beat without its best player in the lineup. Why? Because quarterback Carson Beck has gone from "untested youngster" to "Heisman Trophy contender" in the blink of an eye. The first-year starter finished 19 of 28 for 315 yards and two touchdowns. He had the keys to the offense from the outset and dropped some absolute dimes deep downfield including one in the first half to Oscar Delp (Bowers' replacement at tight end).
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo found multiple ways to get his veteran wide receivers plenty of looks, none more than McConkey. That's important because the junior missed the first month of the season as he recovered from a back injury. Those aren't easy to shake. Saturday's game vs. Florida is the first time all year that he has truly looked like he's back at 100%, which is just in time for an offense that has to find a new identity sans Bowers.
Georgia is the college football version of a chameleon. It can quickly change its appearance based on its environment. The new-look offense is heavily dependent on its quarterback and a veteran receiver who, moving forward, will open up even more passing lanes for his teammates in the same way that Bowers did. The 43 points the Bulldogs scored were their most against the Gators in over four decades and the future looks even brighter based on what we saw on Saturday. -- Barrett Sallee
Florida makes it complicated, unnecessarily
This could have been a significantly closer game if not for a few miscues in the first half as second-year Florida coach Billy Napier took big risks. Most notably, the Gators rolled the dice on fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line (after an overturned first-down call) on the first play of the second quarter while trailing 10-7. Instead of a conventional handoff, a quarterback sneak or even the suddenly popular Tush Push, Napier called a trick play -- a shotgun running back pass -- that backfired massively as Georgia's Smael Mondon took down Florida running back Trevor Etienne for a loss.
UGA scored three plays later and never relented. The failed fourth-down gimmick stood out and embodied the struggles Florida navigated in the first half while attempting fake reverses and relying heavily on play action, pre-snap motion and other forms of "window dressing" designed to confuse Georgia's defense. Instead, the complex play calls only highlighted the problems with Florida's offensive line as QB Graham Mertz fell victim to four sacks before halftime as a result of some of the slow-developing plays.
The Gators OL played significantly better in the second half as they put together a pair of 75-yard touchdown drives with no sacks allowed and only one additional tackle for loss over the final 30 minutes. However, center Kingsley Eguakun needed help leaving the field late in the fourth quarter. The redshirt junior has missed several games already this season due to injury. His return to the lineup was lauded today as a big help to UF's offensive line, and seeing him down so late in a game that was basically out of reach was not ideal for Napier's bunch. -- David Cobb
The real Bulldog defense finally stood up
Remember when Georgia's defense was known for a ferocious front seven that consistently set up shop in the opponent's backfield? That was what it did during the last two seasons ... just not so much this year. The Bulldogs entered the day averaging 1.71 sacks per game and 5.14 tackles for loss per game.
Saturday was different ... way different.
The Dawgs had four sacks and seven tackles for loss in the first half of Saturday's matchup, and that set the tone for their most complete defensive performance of the season. Georgia entered the weekend tops in the nation in third-down defense at 23.6%, while Florida's offense was No. 109 in the country in third-down conversions at 33.3%. The average distance Florida had to go on third down was 8 yards. The matchup already favored Georgia, and its ability to create havoc behind the line of scrimmage made it nearly impossible for Florida to find consistent success. The Gators finished 4 of 11 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth down. -- Sallee
College Football Playoff implications
The first College Football Playoff Rankings come out on Tuesday, and even though the Bulldogs have held the top spot in the AP Top 25 all season, other teams could have a case for No. 1 in the only set of rankings that matter. On the heels of such a well-rounded performance in a neutral-site victory against a quality team, the Dawgs made an excellent case for No. 1.
Georgia is the two-time reigning national champion and has played its best football against its toughest opposition this season, blowing out SEC East foes Kentucky and Florida while handling business against a series of lesser foes. -- Cobb