JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On Oct. 12, the Georgia Bulldogs left Sanford Stadium down, but not out.
A home loss to unranked South Carolina had spoiled their perfect season and reduced the margin for error for the remaining games to zero. There were still season-defining games left to be played, and this was one of them.
The No. 8 Bulldogs defeated No. 6 Florida for the third-straight season with a 24-17 victory in Jacksonville, Florida. This time around, the Bulldogs revived their title hopes.
“A lot of people were doubting us,” outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari said. “We just had to come in and prove everyone wrong and let them know we’re still here.”
There were plenty of doubters, but tonight, Georgia took a crucial step toward achieving its goals for the season.
“We knew coming in this game was going to be do-or-die,” Ojulari said. “We wanted to take advantage of it, and we came out with the dub.”
Path to Atlanta runs through Athens
After the loss to the Gamecocks, Georgia’s playoff hopes weren’t completely dashed, but the Bulldogs would most likely have to win the SEC championship to grab one of those final four spots. The win over Florida goes a long way to making that a reality.
With the win, Georgia is now the outright leader in the SEC East with a one-game lead and head-to-head tiebreaker over Florida. While a second loss would seriously damage their image in the eyes of the Playoff Committee, the win over the Gators means Georgia could lose another conference game and still represent the East in the SEC championship.
“This game always decides who’s going to Atlanta,” linebacker Monty Rice said. “We wanted to get this one.”
Rice is not wrong. The past four winners of “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” have gone on to play in the conference title game.
Not done yet
After the game, head coach Kirby Smart and the players who spoke to the media were quick to point out that there are still plenty of games left to play and room for improvement. While the defense has been superb all season — conceding just over 10 points per game — the Florida offense exposed some flaws that could see Georgia undone in games down the road.
With a 24-10 lead and 10 minutes left in the game, the Georgia defense was one stop away from sealing the win. The Bulldogs had been nearly perfect on defense all game, holding the Gators to their season-low point total through three quarters, but they didn’t finish strong.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask led his offense on a 17-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get the Gators down just one possession. It took a third-and-7 conversion from Jake Fromm to tight end Eli Wolf on the next possession to seal the win for the Bulldogs.
“We played really well up until late in the game,” Rice said. “They had a really long drive. Next time we get an opportunity like that, we need to put the fire out. If they don’t score on that drive, the game is over.”
2019’s fourth quarter
Four regular season games remain — Georgia’s fourth quarter — and they will decide how early 2019 will end. The Bulldogs will have to contend with Texas A&M at home and travel to No. 11 Auburn before they guarantee a spot in Atlanta for the conference title game.
Safety Richard LeCounte said performing in crucial games is nothing new.
“We’re a fourth quarter team,” he said.