Georgia sends a message as it silences doubters, finds answers in must-win game vs. Florida

Author: CBS Sports
Published: Updated:
Georgia sends a message as it silences doubters, finds answers in must-win game vs. Florida. (Credit: CBS Sports)
Georgia sends a message as it silences doubters, finds answers in must-win game vs. Florida. (Credit: CBS Sports)

No. 8 Georgia topped No. 6 Florida 24-17 on Saturday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field to take control of the SEC East and keep hopes alive in the race to make the College Football Playoff. Up 24-17 late in the fourth quarter, Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm stood tall in the face of a blitz and found tight end Eli Wolf on third-and-7 across the field for a 22-yard gain to the Florida 43-yard line to keep a drive alive and ice the game.

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask hit Freddie Swain for a 2-yard touchdown with 3:11 left to cut his team’s defict to one score. Even though it gave the Gators a chance and momentum, the 17-play, 75-yard drive took 6:50 off the clock and put the Dawgs in a position to get just one first down put the game to bed.

Fromm found freshman wide receiver Dominick Blaylock on a 3-yard touchdown strike with 4:43 to play in the second quarter for the first touchdown of the game to head into the locker room with momentum. The Bulldogs came out and drove 64 yards on nine plays on their first drive of the third quarter. Rodrigo Blankenship kicked a 27-yard field goal to push the lead to 13 points.

Georgia converted 12 of its 18 third-down chances to own the time of possession battle and keep Florida’s defense on the field for a whopping 67 plays. Fromm was 20-of-30 passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon, while Trask was equally efficient, completing 21-of-33 throw for 257 yards and two scores.

What did we learn on Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville? Let’s take a look at how the CFP and SEC picture has changed after the Florida-Georgia game.

1. Out of the cage, into the CFP discussion: Georgia senior wide receiver Lawrence Cager separated his shoulder in the loss to South Carolina earlier this month but returned to action on Saturday afternoon. His presence was apparent. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound transfer from Miami had seven catches for 132 yards and a two-point conversion reception. He wasn’t just the X-factor on Saturday against the Gators, he’s the X-factor moving forward for a Georgia team that solidified itself as a College Football Playoff contender.

Fromm has had a go-to receiver in each of the last two seasons. It was Javon Wims (45 catches for 720 yards) in 2017 when the Bulldogs played for a national title, and it was Riley Ridley (44 catches for 570 yards) last year. Cager was clearly Fromm’s guy in the win over Notre Dame in late September when he caught five passes for 82 yards and a stellar touchdown on a back shoulder fade. That’s all that Georgia needs to be a real national title threat. The offensive line showed out and the running back corps is as deep and versatile as any in the sport. If there’s a threat downfield, the entire offense opens up. Georgia welcomed Cager back to the lineup on Saturday and the College Football Playoff welcomed Georgia back into contention as a result.

2. Plow the road: Georgia’s offensive line is full of potential first round draft picks, but hadn’t played as well as a unit as many anticipated coming into the season. That changed on Saturday against a very talented Florida front seven that returned healthy stars Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga. The Gators didn’t sack Fromm once, and the junior picked apart a very talented Florida secondary as a result of the time that he was afforded. Cager was wide open on a 53-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter that pushed the lead to 24-10 and put Florida in desperation mode. It wasn’t just Fromm that benefited, though. It was the running game. D’Andre Swift and the rest of the running backs took a while to get going, but consistent third-down conversions allowed the Bulldogs offensive front to push the Gators around later in the game. Swift ran for 44 yards on the the final drive of the first half to set up a Blankenship field goal and set the tone for the remainder of the game.

3. A tale of third downs: Florida went just 2-of-9 on third downs, and both of those third down conversions were on that final 17-play, 75-yard, 6:50 drive when Georgia’s defense was perfectly content keeping things in front of them and letting the Gators drain the clock. Florida’s average distance to gain on third down was 10.9 yards, which speaks volumes as to what Florida’s biggest problem was on Saturday — running the football. Lamical Perine had just 31 yards on seven carries with a long of only 9 yards. He gained 19 of those on the final drive. The lack of a consistent rushing attack has plagued Florida all season, which has put a ton of pressure on Trask to win with his arm despite not starting a game since his sophomore year in high school.

Georgia, on the other hand, feasted on defensive coordinator on what is jokingly known as “Third and Grantham” in honor of Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s affinity for bringing the house on every third down and getting burned for it. Fromm was 10-of-13 passing for 119 yards on third downs, and eight of those completions moved the sticks. UGA overall was 12-of-18 on third down.

4. Technically, the SEC East isn’t over yet: Georgia has control of the division and therefore controls its destiny in the chase for a CFP berth. But it has Missouri at home, a road game vs. Auburn in two weeks and a home game against Texas A&M the week after that. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Bulldogs to lose two of those. Auburn is going to be the biggest challenge of the three due to its relentless front seven and the fact that it’s on the road. If the Bulldogs lose that slugfest, the bruises could linger against a Texas A&M team that has talent but has underperformed.

Even if that happens, Florida would have to beat Vanderbilt and Missouri to claim the division. It would take an extraordinary set of circumstances to keep Georgia from going to the SEC Championship Game for the third straight season. But how many people saw South Carolina upsetting Georgia? How many people saw Illinois beating Wisconsin? How many people pegged Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma?

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