JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Finally a spanking to a team with a lofty ranking.
Georgia obliterated its reputation for failing to compete against highly ranked teams by stunning No. 3 Florida 17-9 Saturday before 84,644 at EverBank Field. The No. 12 Bulldogs suffocated Florida's offense, and Aaron Murray bounced back from three first-half interceptions to connect with Malcolm Mitchell for a 45-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
It was only Georgia's fifth win over Florida since 1990, and it's the first two-game winning streak for the Bulldogs in this rivalry since 1988 and '89.
"You try to talk about each year as a new year, but obviously it gets in these kids' heads when the only thing they constantly hear is how the other team has won 18 out of 22," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "I thought you saw a will to win today, and a lot of times that gets overlooked at Georgia. Some teams exert their will, but at Georgia they talk about how we almost lost the game.
"The bottom line is we won that game. We went out and got it on both sides of the ball and on special teams."
By defeating a top-five foe for the first time since drubbing Auburn in 2006, the Bulldogs are in control of the SEC East race. Should Georgia defeat an improving Ole Miss and a dreadful Auburn the next two weeks, the Bulldogs would win the East for a second straight year and for a fifth time in head coach Mark Richt's 12 seasons.
Richt was jubilant on the field afterward and briefly tried to temper the moment by saying, "All we've done is given us a chance to play Ole Miss and have it be meaningful."
The two teams combined for nine turnovers, with Florida committing three in each half. The Gators entered Saturday having lost just four turnovers in their first seven games.
"I've said all season long that we're not a team that has a lot of margin for error," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Six turnovers. Wow. That is tough to overcome."
Murray had been labeled as a proficient quarterback who couldn't win the big game, but he has a signature victory that was accompanied by a lackluster stat line. He completed 12 of 24 passes for 150 yards with a touchdown and the three picks.
"It's an awesome feeling to win this game and get us back in the driver's seat," Murray said. "The stats don't mean anything to me. Obviously I want to play better and need to play better, but at the end of the day a win is a win. This is a great victory for the University of Georgia."
Despite outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and the rest of Georgia's defense dominating, the Bulldogs still clung to just a 10-9 lead midway through the fourth. Facing a third-and-5 from Florida's 45, Murray threw to the left sideline to Mitchell, who broke a Loucheiz Purifoy tackle and was off to the races.
"They pretty much brought the house from the weak side, but I liked the matchup and he made the catch," Murray said. "It was just Malcolm being Malcolm after that."
Said Mitchell: "When I turned around and saw the open field, I knew I had to go. I couldn't ask for anything better."
The Bulldogs were looking at a third-and-10 from midfield when officials overturned an incomplete pass intended for Mitchell on the play before. Mitchell's knees went to the ground before the ball came loose, giving the Bulldogs a 5-yard gain and Bobo the opportunity to make the game-deciding call.
"It's not a third-and-10 play," Bobo said. "It's a third-and-5 or -7 play. We wouldn't have called that."
Murray and Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel combined for six turnovers in the first half, with Murray throwing three interceptions and Driskel throwing one interception and fumbling twice. Driskel's biggest gaffe occurred from Georgia's 5-yard line on the final play of the half, when he rolled right and threw across the middle only to be intercepted by Bacarri Rambo.
Driskel's judgment error negated a potential 22-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal that could have given Florida a 9-7 lead at intermission.
"It was a sloppy first half, very sloppy," Murray said, "but that's why you play 60 minutes."
Saturday was the first time Georgia had defeated an undefeated Florida team since 1966, when Steve Spurrier was the Gators' quarterback.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...