Defense wins championships. Thankfully, Florida has a stingy, big play defensive unit on which it can rely. Georgia was forced to punt on their first five possessions and was intercepted to end the first half as Florida hung on for a 21-14 victory. These are the Beasts of the East.
They earned yet another game ball. This one should be plated in 24 karat gold laid over a torn and tattered piece of red jersey, firmly pressed into the football by the weight of a defense that smothered their opponent.
Florida’s woeful offense has stolen some of the luster from the defensive performance. The Beasts of the East were absolutely brutal. They held Georgia to 64 yards rushing on 26 attempts, sacked true freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford four times, and limited the Georgia offense to 4 of 14 on third down conversion opportunities.
Furthermore, the Beasts of the East slapped Georgia with six three-and-outs. Five other Bulldogs possession resulted in fumbles and interceptions.
The Georgia offensive line had allowed only nine sacks all season. The Bulldogs were held to less than half of their average rushing total.
Granted this wasn’t a Georgia team that struck fear into the hearts of every opponent. But, “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” isn’t just an ordinary Saturday in the Southeastern Conference either.
The way this played out should bring a grin to every Florida fan who watched the Bulldogs of yesteryear rip their hearts out. They took pride in humiliating their southern neighbors. The taste is undeniably orange, replacing the peachy flavor that consumed during the Vince Dooley era. The Gators won their 15th victory in the last 17 meetings against their oldest rival—their 17th win in the past 23 tries.
* Georgia had one play go for more than ten yards in the first quarter. The Bulldogs had four go for more than ten yards in the second quarter. They had six go for ten or more in the third quarter as their momentum grew. Georgia seemingly kept waiting for the Gators keep the scoreboard operator busy. It didn’t happen and the ‘Dawgs gained momentum from the Gators inability to take advantage. Those Bulldogs turnovers proved not-so-costly.
* Florida came out on fire offensively. Organized. Methodical. Determined. Touchdown. Later, Andre Caldwell scored his second touchdown on a 40 yard reception from quarterback Chris Leak. Just as he did on his first score, Caldwell’s running prowess after the catch was fantastic. The “drive” lasted all of one play. However, that was the last semblance of offensive rhythm in the contest. Gone too were (most of) the big plays. Florida had only four plays that went for more than ten yards in the second half. Two of those were the first two offensive plays after the intermission- a 13 yard reception by Tate Casey from Leak and a 12 yard run by Percy Harvin.
* Meanwhile, the Gators had no play go for more than 13 yards in the second half. Andre Caldwell ripped off a 23 yard gain on a reverse. However, the play was called back due to a holding call on offensive guard Jim Tartt.
* Is there any question that Andre Caldwell is back? Again, with so much attention on Baker it made Caldwell look as though he was toying with the Bulldog secondary.
* Other than the outstanding play of Caldwell, the most positive aspect of the Florida offense was the play of Florida tackle Phil Trautwein, who zeroed in on Georgia’s pre-season All-American defensive end Quentin Moses. Other than being flagged for a facemask late in the contest, Moses name was seldom heard. He clearly struggled against Trautwein. Moses was not credited with a tackle or an unassisted tackle in the game.
* Two glaring reasons for the Gators ineffective offensive play concerns third down and penalties. The offense was unable to sustain drives and throttle the Bulldogs. Florida was a miserable 4 of 14 (29%) on third down. Two weeks ago the Gators were just 1 of 7 (14%) on third down. Two games and a wretched conversion rate of 5 for 21 (24%). Stupid penalties, like the poor play on third down cost this team valuable field position, continuity, and (perhaps) time of possession. The Gators racked up 10 penalties for 75 yards. Florida entered the game 119th in the NCAA in fewest penalties – that is dead last.
* Despite a group of veteran skills position players, the Gators offense seemingly spent much of the remaining two and a half quarters in the lost and found at Alltel Stadium. Certainly, Georgia’s defense deserved a tip of the hat at times. But, let’s be realistic- the opportunities were plentiful early on in this one. The Bulldogs looked every bit the part of a beaten opponent by the second quarter. After all the Florida defense stifled the Bulldogs offense for three three-and-outs in their first four possessions. Georgia had one play go for more than ten yards in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Florida’s offense had accumulated four plays for more than ten yards in the first two possessions. It was the Florida defense that converted one of their four turnovers for a touchdown. That was more than enough to best the offense on the day. The struggling Florida offense failed to convert three opportunities courtesy of the defense and one provided by the punt coverage unit.
* Chris Leak appeared apprehensive at times in the second half. Sure, he had a three passes dropped that should have helped the team move forward. Perhaps it was the loss at Auburn that caused him to question- Can this be happening again? For whatever reason, he that deer in the headlights look. This was not the look of a confident quarterback four year starter nearing the final act of his senior season.
* You have to wonder why there was no attempt to fire the ball downfield. Leak didn’t appear to have much zip on some of his passes and that should not have been the case for a guy that just had a bye week. He did take a few hits in the game. There is absolutely no evidence that Leak has sore shoulder, but that could be one possibility. It was surprising that the Gators didn’t try to go deep and see if the Georgia safeties were cheating. Perhaps they would be willing to bite on a pump fake with the vertical passing game in play.
* The Gators opted for a running attack by committee plan as six players combined to carry the ball- none for more than eight carries. It was only somewhat effective though. Florida did run for 156 yards on the day. But, it wasn’t until DeShawn Wynn entered the game that things were finally put away.
* Spectacular playmaker Brandon James was once again electric. He added a big play of his own for the special teams until a flag happy official threw a yellow marker on Nick Brooks, who had obviously pulled up so as to not hit the gunner. Officials have to keep their flags in their pockets unless the violation is obvious.
* Recruits should certainly see an opportunity to play. The Gators have some holes that need reliable bodies to carry out the plan. Furthermore, the Gators hold a 5-1 advantage over Georgia head coach Mark Richt.
* Derrick Harvey was the big playmaker along the defensive front. Harvey only had three tackles, but he certainly made the most of them. One forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one sack. Outstanding!
* Florida has to find a reliable kicker. Hetland is struggling. If Florida wins the SEC East they’ll have to have some stability for the SEC title game and the bowl game.