October 29, 2011

'This was a big deal'

PHOTOS: Georgia vs. Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Senior cornerback Brandon Boykin tried to put into words what it meant to beat Florida for the first time in his career.

It wasn't easy to do.

Standing inside the tunnel just outside the team locker room at EverBank Field, Boykin's eyes almost welled up as he attempted to explain what Saturday night's 24-20 victory actually registered with him.

"I can't, but back when I decided to come back instead of going to the NFL, this was the reason I came back," said Boykin. "Finally knocking this team off gives me so much joy right now."

Boykin wasn't the only one who felt this way.

There were plenty of tears to be found as the Bulldogs celebrated just their third victory over the Gators in Mark Richt's 11 years as head coach, a win which keeps Georgia tied atop the SEC East and potentially in the lead depending on the outcome of Saturday night's late game between Tennessee and South Carolina.

"I tried not to make it a bigger deal, but now that it's over and we won it, this was a big deal," Richt said. "This was a big deal."

It was also a big comeback.

Twenty-second ranked Georgia (6-2, 5-1) trailed the Gators (4-4, 2-4) by a 17-3 count before rallying with a pair of touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, the eventual game-winner coming on a 4-yard run by Richard Samuel with 13:18 to play.

The Bulldogs' defense did the rest.

Georgia limited Florida to 226 total yards (negative 19 rushing), including just 32 in the second half. The Bulldogs also made life miserable for quarterback John Brantley - who completed just 2-of-12 passes for 19 yards over the final two periods - sacking him six times, including four by linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray sputtered at times but led the offense by completing 15 of 34 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman Isaiah Crowell led all rushers with 18 carries for 81 yards. Samuel chipped in with 17 carries for 58 yards and the touchdown, before injuring his ankle on the game's final play and had to be helped off the field.

"It's going to be sweet," said Murray, thinking out loud what it's going to be like for him to go back to his home town of Tampa, Fla. "There's not going to be any trash talking, but I can tell you one thing - I'm going to be wearing my Georgia shirt with pride."

Although it wasn't necessarily the prettiest victory, it was a hard-earned one nonetheless.

Trailing 17-10 at the half, Georgia received the third quarter kick but after a quick first-down run by Crowell, bogged down at midfield bringing on Drew Butler to punt the ball away.

A great play by gunner Blake Sailors downed the ball at the 4, and following a quick four and out, forced Florida's first punt of the day, which the Gators downed at the Bulldog 45.

Georgia were soon forced to punt itself, but this time the Bulldog defense soon came up with the big play it needed when Jones forced a fumble by wide receiver Frankie Hammond which Shawn Williams recovered at the Gator 18.

Hammonds was originally ruled down on the play, but after a replay, Georgia was given the ball.

Four plays later, Murray lofted a fourth-down fade to Tavarres King who hauled in the 14-yard pass to tie the game at 17-17 with six minutes left in the third.

Unfortunately for Georgia, the Bulldogs' kickoff coverage woes would continue.

After earlier surrendering a 99-yard kickoff return to Jeff Demps, the Gators bit the Bulldogs again, getting a 63-yard return from Andre Debose to the Georgia 25.

But the defense would hold, forcing Florida to reach for a 40-yard field goal by Brad Phillips, who drilled the kick to put the Gators right back in front at 20-17.

Blair Walsh's second missed field goal kept Georgia from tying the game again on the Bulldogs' ensuing possession. But after the defense forced another Florida punt, the Bulldogs' offense was finally able to make some hay, driving 45 yards to take its first lead over the Gators since 2007 when Samuel powered in from the 4-yard line.

After that, Georgia relied on its defense to secure the coveted win, stopping the Gators twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter before the offense drove the final 49 yards, getting as close as the Florida 1 on a 9-yard run by Samuel when the final horn sounded ending the game.

"We had our opportunities in the game," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "We have to find some way to run the football. We cannot be so one-dimensional and that's something we have to work on."

Georgia dodged a couple of early bullets, first when a holding call on the opening kickoff negated a long kickoff return by Chris Rainey, before a 72-yard catch-and-run by Demps gave the Gators a first down at the Bulldog 21.

But Florida didn't find the end zone.

Three straight incompletions by Brantley brought out Phillips to try a 38-yard field but the kick was wide giving Georgia back the ball.

The Bulldogs picked up a first down before they punted the ball away. This time, Florida would convert, driving 80 yards on 11 plays before a 31-yard touchdown pass from Brantley to Jordan Reed on a fourth-and-19 gave the Gators a 7-0 lead.

What happened next really almost completely ruined the Bulldogs' day.

Following a sack of Murray deep inside Georgia territory, the Bulldog quarterback had his next pass tipped right into the arms of Gator cornerback Marcus Roberson who fell forward to 13.

Amazingly, Florida didn't score again and after a pair of sacks by Jones and DeAngelo Tyson, the Gators were eventually forced to punt with Georgia taking back over at the 20.

On the ensuing drive, a 22-yard run by Crowell gave Georgia its first big gainer of the afternoon.

But instead of punching it in for six, the Bulldogs had to settle for a field goal, which Walsh knocked in from 31 yards out.

But as quickly as one could say World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the Gators yanked it right back and stuffed it right back down the Bulldogs' collective throats.

That's because on the kickoff, Demps took Walsh's kick and brought it back untouched for a 99-yard touchdown return.

It was the first-ever kickoff return for Demps, who replaced Chris Rainey who had left the game briefly following a minor leg injury.

Early in the second, Florida extended the lead to 17-3 on a 43-yard field goal by Phillips.

Again, Georgia tried to answer only to have Walsh push a 32-yard field goal attempt wide right to keep the deficit at 14.

Florida took over from there, and just when it seemed the Gators would really take control, linebacker Alec Ogletree knocked the ball loose from Rainey and into the arms of Bacarri Rambo giving Georgia a first down at the Florida 25.

It would take a fourth-down conversion, but that's just what Georgia was able to do when Murray threw the ball up to Michael Bennett who made a remarkable grab in the end zone to enable the Bulldogs to close within 17-10.

"I didn't see the deer in the headlights look," Richt said. "What I saw was a bunch of guys focused and believing. I thought our staff did a nice job of making adjustments to what they were doing. We had a good plan in the second half and our guys executed well. I was glad we finished the game without any drama at the end."

Georgia returns to action next Saturday when the Bulldogs host New Mexico State.

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.



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