Bulldogs pull away in fourth quarter
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jeremiah Holloman, Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman were among the first wave of Georgia players to jump into the stands.
They screamed, danced and posed for pictures, frolicking in the aftermath of a second straight victory against rival Florida in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”
Their Jacksonville leap was a huge turnaround after their Baton Rouge flop.
Jake Fromm threw three touchdown passes, ending speculation about freshman Justin Fields supplanting him in the starting lineup, and No. 7 Georgia beat ninth-ranked Florida 36-17 on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) took advantage of Florida’s three turnovers and an injury to cornerback C.J. Henderson to bounce back from a 20-point loss at LSU and beat the Gators for the fifth time in the last eight years.
“There’s no other way to say it. We had to get better all around, including myself,” Fromm said. “We wanted to come out and make a statement. We had to win this football game. Our backs were kind of against the wall, and we had to win to keep every goal we want.”
Georgia now can repeat as SEC East champions with a victory at 12th-ranked Kentucky next week.
The Bulldogs can only hope to be as efficient on third down as they were against Florida. They scored all four touchdowns on the all-important down, gut-punching the Gators (6-2, 4-2) time and time again.
“That’s seven plays on the day that’s going to make a rough day for you,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said, lumping the turnovers in with the third-down lapses.
Fromm completed 17 of 24 passes for 240 yards, none bigger than the two TD throws to Holloman. There had been talk that Georgia coach Kirby Smart would get highly touted freshman Fields more snaps following the loss to LSU. Fromm smashed those rumors.
“Jake is a high-quality kid who works his tail off every day,” Smart said. “I’m sure he felt and heard the noise. He just continues to work and get better.”
D’Andre Swift delivered the knockout blow with a 33-yard TD run with 4:39 remaining, sending Florida fans scrambling for the exits.
“It feels more special,” Fromm said, comparing this victory to last season’s 42-7 romp. “This year it was a fight. We were able to enjoy it and respect it a lot more.”
Holloman beat C.J. McWilliams twice in the same corner of the same end zone. The Bulldogs clearly picked on the sophomore after he replaced Henderson (back) on the first series. Fromm seemed to search for him on third down.
“When you can’t get off the field, you get the results we got today,” Florida defensive end CeCe Jefferson said.
Florida took a one-point lead early in the third quarter — Feleipe Franks threw a perfect, 36-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Swain — but Georgia answered with another Fromm-to-Holloman connection and then pulled away late.
The Gators failed to get a stop when they needed it in the fourth.
Turnovers were the Gators’ real undoing. Jordan Scarlett fumbled on the team’s opening possession, and Fromm found Holloman three plays later. Franks threw an interception on the next series. But the dagger was his fumble near the goal line.
Florida: Despite another lopsided loss to Georgia, the Gators still have a chance to win 10 games this season. It’s been a significant turnaround from Jim McElwain’s final season.
Georgia: After stewing the last two weeks over the drubbing in Baton Rouge, the Bulldogs responded in a big way.
Franks fumbled trying to get the ball out of the shadow of his goal line late in the third and gave the Bulldogs the ball at the 1. Georgia ran six plays from inside the 2 and had to settle for a field goal and a 23-14 lead. The scoring drive: six plays, no yards and took 3 minutes, 58 seconds.
“That has to be a record,” Jefferson said. “That just speaks volumes about my defense and the will and the hunger that have to not drop the rope and draw a line. … I’m pretty sure they were tired, but you could look at them and they just looked like the ‘300’ warriors, ready for the next play.”
Florida will fall out of the top 10. Georgia probably won’t have room to move much up, especially with top-ranked Alabama and No. 4 LSU on byes.
Georgia finished with 189 yards rushing, including 80 in the fourth quarter. Florida had 170 on the ground. It’s the 13th consecutive year that the team with more rushing yards won the game.
Losing Henderson was big because the Gators were already without fellow sophomore Marco Wilson, who injured his left knee in a loss to Kentucky in early September. The Gators already were thin in the secondary because of injuries to Brian Edwards and Quincy Lenton, plus the loss of Randy Russell (heart condition) and Justin Watkins (dismissed).
Florida begins a three-game home-stand against Missouri.
Georgia plays at Kentucky. The Bulldogs have won eight in a row in the series.
By Mark Long of the Associated Press.