JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 29: Richard Samuel #22 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs for yardage past Josh Evans #24 of the Florida Gators during the game at EverBank Field on October 29, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
I don't believe in curses. Well, maybe curses exists, but certainly sports curses don't. People win and lose games without supernatural help one way or the other.
However, if I had told you that against Florida that Georgia would:
- Allow a pair of long kickoff returns, one of which went for a touchdown,
- Throw an interception in its own red zone,
- Fall behind 17-3 in the first half,
- Miss two field goals,
- Shank two punts,
- Throw to the endzone on fourth down on multiple possessions,
- And wind up scoring just 24 points,
You would guess that it was a big win by the Gators. You know, the kind that send some Georgia fans into an existential crisis in which they question the purpose of being and why the universe was cruel enough to spawn the game we know as football.
However, that's not what happened. Georgia, despite all of its attempts to give the game away, managed to grasp an increasingly less rare win over Florida in Jacksonville Saturday night. It was a victory straight out of Mark Richt's first few years in Athens, with an offense doing just enough and a defense that was tough as nails.
That defense lost Jeff Demps on a screen pass that he took 72 yards on the first play of the game, and it allowed an 85-yard TD drive (80 yards of field position plus five to overcome a false start) on the subsequent possession. It allowed just 69 net yards the rest of the game. When Florida got a rare (for this year) interception and the ball 13 yards from the end zone, a tackle for loss and two sacks put the Gators out of range of their backup, walk on kicker.
Florida certainly pitched in on the win, though. With John Brantley unable to take under center snaps, Charlie Weis ran empty sets nearly the entire game. That, combined with lackluster offensive line play, allowed UGA's defense to tee off on the immobile quarterback. Weis appeared to make no adjustments for the second half after it was apparent that Todd Grantham solved his first quarter problems in the second. Weis also eschewed the Trey Burton option game for all but a handful of plays despite leaning on it for entire drives in previous games and it being quite effective against Grantham's defense last year.
UF also continued its parade of stupid penalties, and it showed a lack of mental toughness on defense particularly. On what would be the decisive drive, CB Jaylen Watkins was called for pass interference on a 3rd down to set up the Bulldogs on the Gator 20. Richard Samuel plowed through a nonexistent defensive line on three of the next four snaps to pick up those 20 and score the touchdown with emphasis. The defense seemed to just melt for those few plays, while toughening up and forcing a likely field goal try might have ended up sending the game to overtime.
It was a sloppy game from where I sat in the last row of section 412, with the level of play only appearing to rise above mediocre periodically. Both teams have things they could complain about, but neither could second guess the outcome without having to take a very long look in the mirror first. Either team could have won, and it's debatable whether either team should have won (give an edge to Georgia there if such an edge exists).
But Georgia did win. It vanquished its bitter rival Florida in a game it would have found ways to lose in years past. It's still just 4-18 since 1990, but Steve Spurrier has been in Columbia for more than half the time he spent as head coach in Gainesville. Florida is now just 5-3 over the last eight in the series, and the new head coach there is 0-1 with a multi-year roster rebuilding project ahead of him. The Bulldogs put themselves in great shape for the East stretch run while eliminating the Gators from contention. By delivering UF its fourth SEC loss of the season with South Carolina still to go, UGA may have even contributed in breaking Florida's streak of being the only SEC school never to finish under .500 in league play in the divisional era.
If that's not the sort of way you break a nonexistent curse, I don't know what is.