JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This city has seen more than a few weird cocktail parties. There have been more than a few times Georgia arrived as a big favorite and found a way to lose, even get blown out. And with the Bulldogs’ best player out for the first time and Florida coming in with momentum, it was OK to enter the stadium with a gnawing feeling that something weird might happen.
Then it didn’t.
No. 1 Georgia dominated its rival, its offense looking just fine without Brock Bowers, its defense playing like a Georgia defense is supposed to play and its special teams throwing in a safety off a blocked punt. And that all happened within a stretch of the first half that saw Georgia score 23 points in less than seven minutes on its way to a 43-20 win.
Here are initial observations.
• Georgia’s defense looked like its old self during a four-drive stretch in the second quarter: Florida managed 3 yards over those drives, thanks to four sacks that kept pushing the ball back, including one that resulted in a strip and fumble recovery for the Bulldogs and another that resulted in a punt being blocked for a safety. The game began with Florida getting 66 yards and a touchdown. The yardage on the next five drives: 13, 6, minus-14, minus-6, 2.
• Two fourth-down decisions also turned the key stretch. Florida coach Billy Napier failed on his risk, going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34, and Georgia capitalized with a touchdown to go up 17-7. Kirby Smart succeeded on his risk, which was much less risky, a fourth-and-1 from the Florida 3 with Daijun Edwards scoring to make it 24-7. But the bigger issue with Napier’s decision was the actual play call: Rather than a simple quarterback sneak, which had a chance, he tried some trickiness. Graham Mertz lined up in the pistol, then ran to the center, who snapped it between Mertz’s legs to tailback Trevor Etienne. Georgia linebacker Marvin Jones Jr. was all over it, pulling Etienne down and drawing a raucous reaction from the Georgia half of the stadium.
• The first game without Bowers? Well, the star tight end was actually with the team, in a jersey and on the sidelines but not active. In his absence, Oscar Delp got the most snaps with Lawson Luckie at first coming on some double-tight end sets, but as the game went as the lone tight end. Delp only had one catch in the first half, and it was a memorable one, a one-handed grab for 18 yards. That came on the game’s opening drive and seemed to set the tone that Georgia’s offense would be just fine, at least for this game.
• It’s safe to say Ladd McConkey has recovered from the back injury. He had two change-of-direction moves on big plays, the first and most memorable on a 41-yard catch-and-run for Georgia’s first touchdown. The next was on a 54-yarder when McConkey stopped after running toward the right sideline and cut upfield for another 10 yards. McConkey finished with a season-high 135 yards, including 78 after the catch.
• Playing in his native Jacksonville for the first time at Georgia, quarterback Carson Beck passed for 285 yards and a touchdown. Beck, a junior, has answered whether he can be Georgia’s starter. He’s now second in the SEC in passing yards, behind only LSU’s Jayden Daniels.
• But the star of the game for Georgia’s offense was the offensive line, which gave Beck plenty of time and opened holes for Daijun Edwards (68 yards and two touchdowns in the first half) and other tailbacks, who averaged more than 4 yards per carry. This came without Amarius Mims, in uniform after missing four games but not getting any snaps.
• Georgia is 41-1 since it lost to Florida in 2020. That was Georgia’s last loss in the regular season. But the upcoming stretch still has three big hurdles: Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee are all ranked, and next week’s game against Missouri could decide the SEC East.
(Top photo of Carson Beck (15): David Rosenblum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)