Photo Credit: Chamberlain Smith
"Jake, is it true you have a noodle arm?"
Ever since the loss to South Carolina a little less than a month ago, the sky has been falling in Athens. But while all of us fans have been tearing our hair out over whether or not this Georgia team had the gumption to turn this season around, Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs were circling the wagons, putting in the work and getting ready to whup Florida.
And let's be very clear—we whupped Florida. The final score at this year's World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party may have been 24-17, only a seven-point win over the hated Gators, but that scoreline doesn't do justice to how well the Dawgs played. It was a dominant performance that got this season back on track and restored much of my faith in this team, much like it probably did yours.
Let's start our look back at the game with the target of Georgia fans' ire for the last month or so: Jake Fromm. Fromm has had to listen to fans—this one included—debate whether he was actually any good for the last three weeks despite two seasons’ worth of evidence that he is, in fact, very good. Against Florida, he managed to shut us all up rather quickly. Fromm went 20-for-30 with 279 yards and two touchdowns. It's the first game he's ever won when throwing 30-plus passes.
More impressive was how Fromm played in clutch situations. The junior completed 10 of his 13 third-down passes for 119 yards, including a crucial 22-yarder to Eli Wolf with less than three minutes remaining that essentially put the game on ice. It made for a spectacular, if stressful, performance.
It was exactly the kind of reaction we wanted to see from Fromm after the disaster that was the South Carolina game and his 35-yard performance against Kentucky. The fact that all eyes would be on how Fromm responded didn't seem lost on him or Smart, either. After the game, Smart said he and Fromm had lunch together a few times this week, and Smart was clearly emotional at the final whistle when he bear-hugged Fromm and embraced him for a good five seconds. He even got in a dig at fans' doubt over Fromm.
"I was proud of the support that our fans provided for us," Smart said in his press conference. "Even if they didn't think Jake could throw the ball."
The defense continued to do its part, specifically against the run. Although QB Kyle Trask threw for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the Gators’ offense only managed 21 rushing yards. Through eight games, the Dawgs still haven't allowed a rushing touchdown and still haven't allowed any opponent to score more than 20 points.
The defense still has its issues, of course. The secondary was weak on both of Florida's touchdown drives, and Richard LeCounte was called for a penalty that extended the second one, which put the Gators within a score. Covering tight ends is still an issue. Florida TE Kyle Pitts caught four passes for 78 yards. But, on the whole, I don't think there's any more doubt that this is one of the best defenses in the country.
We also received some help from Florida being big dummies, which I'm always cool with. Ever-hateable Florida defensive coordinator/former Georgia DC Todd Grantham did exactly what Georgia fans have come to expect from him and dialed up emotional blitz after emotional blitz on third downs, allowing Fromm to tear that defense apart. Dan Mullen, who is quickly climbing the list of most punchable college football coaches, slow-played Florida's final touchdown drive and stayed on the field for nearly seven minutes, making it easy to kill the clock when we got the ball back. They were dumb, and we made them pay.
So for at least another year, we'll hold bragging right over the Gators, just as God intended. More importantly, we still stand as the unimpeachable top dog in the SEC East and have a clear path back to the SEC Championship Game and into the College Football Playoff. There's still no margin for error, but for the first time in what feels like a long time, I believe in these Dawgs again.