JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Top-ranked Georgia expects to eventually benefit from a game like this. It might happen next year. Or maybe next week.
Daijun Edwards and Kenny McIntosh ran for two touchdowns each, and the Bulldogs pulled away from Florida following a second-half scare to win 42-20 Saturday night in the rivalry dubbed “the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”
Next up: No. 3 Tennessee, a game that could have Southeastern Conference and College Football Playoff implications. Georgia might not have the same margin for error against the Volunteers as it enjoyed against Florida.
The defending national champion Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 SEC) looked to be in trouble when the Gators (4-4, 1-4) scored the first 17 points of the third quarter and turned a 28-3 deficit into a one-score game.
But the Dawgs answered in resounding fashion with consecutive touchdown drives to seal their 10th consecutive victory. It was Georgia’s fifth win over Florida in the last six seasons.
“I don’t enjoy losing the momentum in the game,” Dawgs coach Kirby Smart said. “I enjoy the fact that we never blinked. … There’s two things (that happen) when adversity hits: you fracture or you connect. Our team connected.”
This one was dedicated to legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who died Friday at age 90.
Dooley dominated the Georgia-Florida series during his coaching career, going 17-7-1 against the Gators. The most famous victory came in 1980, when Lindsay Scott hauled in a 93-yard touchdown pass from Buck Belue in the closing minute. The improbable 26-21 triumph propelled Georgia to a perfect season and their first consensus national title.
“Such an ambassador for our program and all of college football,” Smart said. “I know if he was looking down on that one, he would have enjoyed the first half. I don’t know that he would have enjoyed the second one.”
Florida had all the momentum in the third quarter after Amari Burney forced two turnovers following Trevor Etienne’s TD run. Burney stripped McIntosh and intercepted a pass from Stetson Bennett.
“They didn’t stop us other than that,” Bennett said. “We answered really well after the pick I threw and went right down the field. Everybody answered the call whenever they were asked.”
Georgia put the game away thanks to a few key fourth downs. Bennett connected with tight end Brock Bowers on a fourth-and-7 play to set up one touchdown in-between Florida’s two failed attempts to move the chains on fourth down.
“Yeah, it’s a turnover on downs and turnovers affect the outcome of the game,” Florida coach Billy Napier said. “No different than them turning the ball over allowed them to get us back in the game. … We had our opportunities. We can coach better. We can play better.”
Georgia played nearly flawless football down the stretch and finished with 555 yards against Florida’s beleaguered defense. Edwards had 106 yards rushing, including a 22-yard TD run that halted Florida’s comeback. McIntosh added 90 on the ground.
Bennett completed 19 of 38 passes for 316 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Bowers caught five passes for a career-high 154 yards, including a 73-yard score in which he hauled in a ball that tipped off linebacker Burney.
“Ball’s bouncing in the air and I just snatched it,” Bowers said.
Richardson threw for 271 yards and a touchdown for the Gators, who have lost 12 of their last 15 SEC games. Nearly half of Richardson’s passing yards came on plays of 78 and 41 yards.
“Whenever you have a team like that, it’s easy for them to do what they do,” Richardson said. “They have people doing their job, and it’s kind of hard to affect them and stop them.”
Florida: Despite rallying against Georgia, the Gators have ground to make up in the SEC’s Eastern Division. Napier knows it starts on the recruiting trail.
Georgia: The Bulldogs struggled at times because of dropped passes, costly penalties and turnovers. Those are the kind of mistakes that could doom Georgia in close games with the toughest part of its schedule looming.
Georgia should retain its top spot in the next AP college football poll.
Georgia standout linebacker Nolan Smith spent the second half in street clothes because of a shoulder injury. Freshman linebacker Darris Smith was shaken up on the second-half kickoff when Florida’s Jack Pyburn drove him to the ground. Georgia right tackle Amarius Mims was helped off the field in the fourth quarter with a left knee injury.
Florida plays at Texas A&M for the second in three years. The Aggies won 41-38 in 2020.
Georgia hosts third-ranked Tennessee. The Bulldogs have won five in a row and 10 of 12 in the series.