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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Bulldogs prove resilient, defeat Gators in Jacksonville

Georgia wethered Florida’s third-quarter surge to remain unbeaten

<p>Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson in the huddle during the first half of the Gators&#x27; loss to Georgia Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. </p>

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson in the huddle during the first half of the Gators' loss to Georgia Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. 

JACKSONVILLE, Fl — Half red, half teal. 

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

Fourteen straight Georgia points dissolved all hope that the Florida Gators were going to shock the nation’s top team. 

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

“Not good enough,” Florida head coach Billy Napier said. “Gotta coach better, gotta lead better, players gotta play better. Simple enough."

The opening five minutes came and went in a blink. Georgia and Florida traded punts to open the game, neither offense making much movement. 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 kick started the Bulldogs offense with two receptions for 33 yards. In just eight plays and about three minutes Georgia struck first. Junior tailback Daijun Edwards punched 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 the lost yardage on third-and-16, but he came up short. Jeremy Crawshaw booted away another punt. 

The Bulldogs again moved the ball at will. 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 the touchdown on a 2-yard run. 

Three Florida drives in the first quarter resulted in zero first downs and a measly 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 opening 15 minutes. 

Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett started the second quarter airing it out. He paid the price, however, as Florida defensive back Jadarrius Perkins went up and stole away the pass from Georgia wide receiver Dominick Blaylock. The interception set the Gators up at their own 41-yard line. 

UF squandered the turnover. A 16-yard completion from redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson to wide receiver Ricky Pearsall was sandwiched between two penalties: an intentional grounding and a snap infraction. Once again, Crawshaw and the punting unit saw the field. 

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Bowers made magic happen the next time he was targeted. A strike from Bennett looked destined to either be intercepted by UF linebacker Amari Burney or fall incomplete. Instead, after a handful of bobbles, Bowers hauled in the pass and housed it. The 73-yard touchdown extended the Bulldogs’ lead to three scores. 

After Florida finally picked up its first first down, Richardson responded with an overthrow of wide receiver Marcus Burke and a questionable deep shot into double coverage. Florida punted. 

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

Richardson hit Shorter for a 41-yard gain down the left sideline for Florida’s first chunk play of the game. Nothing went the Gators’ way on the next three plays and Napier sent out kicker Adam Mihalek, who knocked in a career-long 52-yard field goal. Florida had its first points with 5:35 to play in the first half. 

Georgia would tack on its fourth touchdown of the first half with 17 ticks till halftime. A 7-yard pass from Bennett to wide receiver Ladd McConkey, who accounted for 45 yards on the drive, pushed the Bulldogs ahead 28-3. 

UGA trotted to its locker room with 346 yards of offense, just eight yards fewer than its total through the whole game last season.

The Gators received the ball to begin the second half and, for once, they looked alive. Florida chained together five first downs  — three more than it had the whole first half — and drove 75 yards in 13 plays. Etienne carried the rock twice for 13 yards plus a touchdown to cap off the drive. 

A fumble on the first play of Georgia’s ensuing possession, recovered by defensive back Trey Dean III, set the Gators up in excellent field position. While Florida couldn't capitalize with a touchdown, it did convert a field goal and cut the UGA lead to 11.

Consecutive first downs gave the appearance that the Bulldogs were recovering from the turnover just fine. That is, until an errant throw from Bennett ended up in the hands of Burney, again. The interception handed the ball back to Richardson and company. 

Florida was riding the momentum and translated it into the biggest play of the game, a 78-yard touchdown for UF wide receiver Xzavier Henderson. The sophomore got loose up the right sideline and burned the Georgia defense for the longest touchdown of his career. 

"I saw the corner squat," Richardson said. 

After sacrificing 17 straight points, the Bulldogs retaliated. Six plays and 78 yards pushed Georgia’s lead to 15. UGA thrashed Florida on the ground with 56 yards, 22 of which came on Edwards’ touchdown, his second of the game. 

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

Florida’s second-to-last time with the ball saw Richardson trying to push it into the endzone. The Gators picked up yardage but not points. On a 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 clock on its final dive of the game. Even though Florida got to trot out its offense one more time, the game had been over for a while. Richardson was sacked on two of the final four Florida offensive snaps. 

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

Contact Joseph Henry at jhenry@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.

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Joseph Henry

Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper. 


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