Georgia 34, Missouri 0.
Missouri 42, Florida 13.
Florida 38, Georgia 20.
That’s college football, my friends.
That’s what we love about it.
That’s what causes loyal fans so much anguish.
If that third result follows from the first two, then Nathan Deal and Jason Carter are best buddies. But it happened.
The same Florida team excoriated for its abysmal play against Missouri; the same Florida team whose beleaguered coach needed defending by the basketball coach; the same Florida team that was an 11-point underdog to a Georgia team playing without its best player; that same Florida team rose up Saturday and bullied Georgia as if the Dawgs were Eastern Michigan.
How in the name of Charley Pell did this happen?
“We got our butts kicked,” Georgia offensive tackle John Theus told Don Coble of the Florida Times-Union. “They came out and played tougher than we did. We take it like a man. We got beat, fair and square.”
Florida ran through and around Georgia for 418 yards, a staggering total. Georgia hadn’t been gashed on the ground like that since Nov. 18, 1978, when Larry Munson spent most of the day exclaiming, “There’s a hole; here comes Cribbs!”
And if it wasn’t Auburn’s Joe Cribbs, it was his running mate William Andrews, another pretty fair runner.
On Saturday, Florida employed Kevin Taylor, who rushed for 197 yards. His previous career best was 96. Matt Jones ran for 192, the fourth time in his career he went over 100. Jones also had his first career game with two rushing touchdowns.
“Four hundred yards rushing, that’s pretty impressive,” Georgia coach Mark Richt accurately observed in his postgame remarks. “That was the story of the game. We couldn’t run it the way we like to, and they did.”
It didn’t begin that way. Georgia drove the ball early. Nick Chubb had a long touchdown gallop and went over 100 yards rushing in the first quarter. It may be hard to recall now, but Georgia opened with the momentum.
As the first quarter ended, Georgia had a fourth-and-one at the Florida 22. Instead of going for it and stoking his team’s momentum, Richt chose to have Marshall Morgan attempt a 39-yard field goal. Into a crosswind.
“It was windy, and it was problematic early in the game,” Richt accurately noted.
The wind pushed Morgan’s kick wide left. Instead of a possible 14-0 lead with tons of momentum, Georgia led but 7-0, and Florida had gotten a break.
Seizing their chance, Florida drove 57 yards in 13 plays, running over six minutes off the clock. On fourth-and-nine from the Georgia 21, Florida coach Will Muschamp made the call of the game.
Michael McNeely loped 21 yards for a touchdown on a fake field goal.
The game was never the same.
“They did a great job creating momentum with the fake field goal for a touchdown, and from there they kept rolling,” Richt accurately lamented. “I’m sure it helped their confidence. From that point on, it was their momentum and their advantage, until we scored late in the game.
“How many three-and-outs did we have? The second quarter, we might have gone three-and-out every time. (Actually, Georgia generated one first down, but who’s to quibble?) We have to move the ball. The first quarter, we had the ball for about 10 minutes, but in the second quarter it turned completely around.”
Here’s the point: “I feel like that stole the momentum of the game,” Florida defensive back Brian Poole told gatorsfootball.com. “After that, they never got it back.”
Georgia defensive back Damian Swann told georgiadogs.com, “Once momentum swings, it’s hard to get it back. We were never able to get it back.”
“It’s a momentum game,” Georgia defensive lineman Mike Thornton told Georgiadogs.com. “You give them an ounce of momentum, and they take it and run with it. We had to take it from them and we didn’t. For them to play like that, it (the fake field goal) definitely created some momentum on their side of the ball. I definitely think we had the momentum early in the game. We just didn’t rise to the occasion like we should have.”
“They just caught a lot of momentum,” added Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason. “We were obviously in the game and had a chance to be up, 10-0. They caught good wind and good things kept rolling for them. And one bad thing just kept rolling for us.”
Admittedly, I was dubious, skeptical, that a single play in the second quarter changed the entire outcome of this game, but you’ve heard what those involved had to say. That’s exactly how it happened.
That’s college football.