JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Saturday began with several national college football commentators and several sign-waving Georgia fans expressing their support for Bulldogs backup quarterback Justin Fields to receive increased playing time.
They didn't get their wish.
Sophomore starter Jake Fromm was simply too effective, completing 17 of 24 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns while guiding No. 7 Georgia to a 36-17 win over No. 9 Florida before a sellout crowd of 84,463 at TIAA Bank Field. Fromm, who threw two interceptions during a 36-16 loss at LSU on Oct. 13, bounced back by guiding an offense that compiled 429 yards and was 8-of-14 on third-down conversions.
"It is what is," Fromm said. "I'm not proving anything to anybody as far as whether you think I'm a good football player or not. I'm playing because God put me on the planet to play football and worship him. That's the reason I play.
"I play for my family, and I play for my brothers in that locker room. I'm not trying to impress anybody."
Fromm became the first quarterback to lead the Bulldogs to consecutive wins over Florida by more than 15 points in more than 70 years, relegating Fields to the sideline for the entire contest. Saturday was the first time in eight games that Fields, the heralded freshman who was a five-star recruit, never played a snap.
"I really, really ignore the noise and don't get into that," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "I don't think that helps me make a good decision. The decisions that we make for our team at all positions should be based on what happens at practice, what happens in games and how the flow of the game is going.
"The outside noise probably affects the players a lot more than it affects me, but Jake Fromm is a high-character kid who works his tail off every day. I'm sure he felt and heard the noise, but he continues to work and get better, and Justin Fields continues to work and get better, too."
Georgia improved to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in Southeastern Conference play heading into this week's trip to Kentucky, which has the same records. Whoever wins the Georgia-Kentucky game will earn the Eastern Division title, regardless of what happens in the Georgia-Auburn or the Kentucky-Tennessee contests on Nov. 10.
The Bulldogs are seeking their second straight SEC East title and their seventh since the conference went to divisional play in 1992, while the Wildcats are after their first.
"We're not thinking about the stakes right now," Bulldogs senior receiver Terry Godwin said. "We want to celebrate tonight and have fun."
Florida dropped to 6-2 and 4-2, having lost to both Georgia and Kentucky within league play. The Gators took their lone lead at 14-13 on a 36-yard pass from Feleipe Franks to Freddie Swain early in the third quarter, but they committed three turnovers and didn't get any takeaways for first-year coach Dan Mullen.
"We did not play well at all," Mullen said. "It was our worst execution of the year."
Florida's lead lasted just three minutes. The Bulldogs marched 72 yards in seven plays and snagged a 20-14 advantage when Fromm passed to Jeremiah Holloman for a 12-yard touchdown and Rodrigo Blankenship kicked the extra point. Fromm went 5-of-6 passing in the third quarter, and he sealed the win with a 24-yard score to Godwin with 8:39 left that made it 29-17.
"Once we got the passing game going, it put their defense on their heels," Bulldogs junior tight end Isaac Nauta said. "Then we were able to start running the ball there in the second half and get things going."
Said Godwin: "Fromm had a bad game two weeks ago but came out and proved that he's still Fromm. He's still capable of running this offense and controlling the game."
Georgia had the chance to blow the game open with four minutes left in the third quarter, when Tyrique McGhee forced a Franks fumble at Florida's 1-yard line that was recovered by inside linebacker Tae Crowder. Two rushes gained no yards, but the Bulldogs got a new set of downs when Holloman drew an interference flag.
Two Fromm sneaks and a run by Elijah Holyfield failed to gain a yard, however, so an 18-yard Blankenship field goal had to cap a six-play, zero-yard drive that still managed to give the Bulldogs a two-score advantage at 23-14.
"We've just got to score from farther out," Smart joked before quickly adding, "You've got to get the ball in inside the 1. We've got to practice goal-line (offense situations) more and we've got to get that fixed, because it was definitely frustrating."
It had been a frustrating two weeks for Fromm, who now is 2-for-2 against Florida with an impressive showing to follow up last year's 42-7 blowout.
"This was an actual four-quarter fight, and it feels more special — that payoff you get at the end," Fromm said. "Last year was a weird feeling to score so quickly. This was more of a fight, so we could respect it and enjoy it a lot more when it was over. We just had to get better after LSU. There is no other way to say it.
"We had to get better all around, including myself. We really wanted to come out and make a statement. We had to win this football game. I know that's the plan every week, but our backs were against the wall."
The Georgia-Kentucky game will have a 3:30 p.m. kickoff and be televised by CBS.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.