Bulldogs prove resilient, beat Gators in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fl — Half red, half teal.

TIAA Bank Field sat nearly half full, the color of its seats revealed, as the Georgia Bulldogs controlled possession and burned the final minutes of game time.

Fourteen straight points by Georgia ended any hope that the Florida Gators would shock the nation’s top team.

Florida (4-4, 1-4 SEC) defeated No. 1 Georgia (8-0, 5-0 SEC) 42-20 on Saturday night in the 100th meeting between the bitter rivals. The Bulldogs’ 25-point halftime lead proved insurmountable, and the 555 yards of offense was the second most the Gators had given up this season.

“Not good enough,” Florida head coach Billy Napier said. “I have to train better, lead better, the players have to play better. Simple enough.”

The opening five minutes came and went in an instant. Georgia and Florida traded punts to open the game, neither offense moving much. The Bulldogs were handcuffed by a holding penalty and the Gators quickly went three-and-out.

UGA unleashed its primary weapon on the next drive. Sophomore tight end Brock Bowers sparked the Bulldogs’ offense with two receptions for 33 yards. In just eight plays and about three minutes, Georgia struck first. Junior tailback Daijun Edwards ran in a 1-yard touchdown for the opening lead.

Florida freshman Trevor Etienne tried to spark the Gators with a 33-yard kickoff return, but a false start penalty on UF center Kingsley Eguakun killed the drive. Etienne tried to make up for lost yardage on third-and-16, but fell short. Jeremy Crawshaw kicked another punt.

The Bulldogs moved the ball at will again. Georgia’s up-tempo offense continued to give Florida fits to the tune of an eight-play, 80-yard drive. UGA sophomore running back Kenny McIntosh scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run.

Florida’s three drives in the first quarter resulted in zero first downs and a paltry 16 yards of offense. The Bulldogs moved the chains nine times and racked up 186 yards. The disparity was reflected on the scoreboard, as Georgia led 14-0 after the first 15 minutes.

Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett started the second quarter. But he paid for it when Florida linebacker Jadarrius Perkins rose up and stole a pass from Georgia wide receiver Dominick Blaylock. The punt put the Gators at their own 41-yard line.

UF fumbled a turnover. A 16-yard completion from redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson to wide receiver Ricky Pearsall was sandwiched between two penalties: intentional grounding and a foul. Crawshaw and the battalion unit saw the field again.

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Bowers did some magic the next time he was targeted. Bennett’s punt looked destined to either be intercepted by UF linebacker Amari Burney or fall incomplete. Instead, after a handful of pom poms, Bowers pulled the pass and accommodated him. The 73-yard touchdown extended the Bulldogs’ lead to three scores.

After Florida finally got its first down, Richardson responded by bringing down wide receiver Marcus Burke and taking a questionable deep shot into double coverage. Florida attacked.

The Gators’ defense dug in, including a 5-yard tackle for loss by Burney. It was Georgia’s turn to give up possession.

Richardson hit Shorter for a 41-yard gain down the left sideline for Florida’s first play of the game. On the next three plays, the Gators failed, and Napier sent in kicker Adam Mihálek, who hit a 52-yard field goal. Florida had its first points at the 5:35 mark of the first half.

Georgia would score their fourth touchdown of the first half with 17 ticks to halftime. A 7-yard pass from Bennett to wide receiver Ladd McConkey, who had a 45-yard drive, put the Bulldogs ahead 28-3.

UGA trotted into its locker room with 346 yards of offense, just eight yards shy of last season’s all-game total.

The Gators got the ball early in the second half and for once looked alive. Florida combined for five first downs — three more than in the entire first half — and drove 75 yards in 13 plays. Etienne carried the rock twice for 13 yards plus a touchdown to stop the drive.

A fumble on the first play of Georgia’s ensuing possession by quarterback Trey Dean III put the Gators in excellent field position. While Florida was unable to convert a touchdown, it converted a field goal to cut UGA’s lead to 11.

Back-to-back first downs made it look like the Bulldogs were recovering from the turnover just fine. That is, until an errant throw from Bennett ended up in Burney’s hands again. The interception returned the ball to Richardson and co.

Florida rode the momentum and turned it into the biggest play of the game, a 78-yard touchdown to UF receiver Xzavier Henderson. The sophomore broke free down the right sideline and torched the Georgia defense for the longest touchdown of his career.

After giving up 17 straight points, the Bulldogs fought back. A six-play, 78-yard drive pushed Georgia’s lead to 15. UGA outgained Florida for 56 yards on the ground, 22 of which came on Edwards’ touchdown, his second of the game.

The ‘Dawgs then doubled to extend their lead to 22. On a key fourth down, UF defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. jumped. into the neutral zone to give Bennett free play. He took full advantage, hitting Bowers for a 29-yard gain and the conversion. McIntosh scored his second touchdown on the next play.

Florida’s second-to-last time with the ball saw Richardson trying to push it into the end zone. The Gators gained yardage but no points. On fourth down from the 15-yard line, Richardson looked for Pearsall. The pass appeared to be intercepted, but the pick was overturned. Regardless, UF turned the ball over on downs.

Georgia killed more than seven minutes of time on the last dunk of the game. Although Florida got one more offensive drive, the game was over for a while. Richardson has been sacked on two of Florida’s last four drives.

A trip to Kyle Field in College Station, Texas is next for the Gators. Florida will face Texas A&M on Nov. 5 at noon. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

Contact Joseph Henry at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.

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Joseph Henry

Joseph Henry is in his fourth year studying sports journalism and is the sports editor of the Alligator. He previously served as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men’s basketball reporter, volleyball reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting at the movies as often as possible, collecting vinyls and drinking Dr. Pepper.

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