Georgia uses late second-quarter surge to defeat Florida
JACKSONVILLE, FL — No. 1 Georgia led Florida 3-0 with 2:22 remaining in the second quarter.
The offense struggled through most of the first half, only registering three points throughout the first 27:38 of game time. Nevertheless, Georgia scored 21 points in the last 2:22 of the first half and went into halftime with a 24-0 lead over the Gators at TIAA Bank Field.
Bulldogs’ quarterback Stetson Bennett was picked off by Florida’s Rashad Torrence with just over three minutes to go in the first half. The Gators took over on their own two-yard line, but Georgia’s defense made a game-changing play when Anthony Richardson fumbled on second down, which was recovered by defender Nolan Smith. On the next play, Bulldogs’ running back James Cook scored from 11-yards out, giving his team a 7-0 advantage.
Florida got the ball back with 2:16 left in the half, but the ensuing drive didn’t last long. On 2nd-and-15, Richardson’s pass was picked off by Smith, which was tipped by defensive lineman Travon Walker. Georgia took over on the Gators’ 36-yard line and Bennett found wide receiver Kearis Jackson for a touchdown on the next play. The Bulldogs’ 14-point swing gave it a 17-0 lead with 1:35 left in the second quarter.
“That was probably the play of the game,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart in his post-game press conference. “Because he was running for a first down, coming out. They had schemed up a really good play, quarterback power, and the pile was moving forward. Nolan was able to get the ball out, and the most important thing in this game is the ball.”
Georgia wasn’t done yet, though.
Florida was able to move the ball downfield on the ensuing drive, but inside linebacker Nakobe Dean intercepted Richardson on a crossing pattern and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. Georgia went into halftime with a 24-0 lead and all the momentum. It was the turning point in the Bulldogs’ 34-7 victory over the Gators.
“The Nakobe pick-six was a momentum swing,” Smith said. “When momentum goes the other way, guys feed off of each other. We always talk about connection. You feel it, and if you don’t see it on the sideline you would be absolutely absurd. I’m cheering the offense on when they're up, and they are cheering us on. It’s all about connection and team comradery. Being together as one.”
It was a momentum shift that Georgia needed after some early offensive mistakes. The Bulldogs cruised in the second half, adding 10 more points on a Jack Podlesny field goal and a 42-yard touchdown run by Zamir White. Florida’s only scoring drive came midway through the fourth stanza as quarterback Emory Jones scored on a two-yard rush.
“That changed the game,” Smart said of the 21-point swing in the final 2:22 of play in the second quarter. “That momentum right before the half was just huge. It is what our guys do. They are havoc guys that cause problems, frustrate the quarterback and try to find different ways to affect the quarterback. Those turnovers are so big.”
Here’s Smart’s post-game interview: