JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Georgia's best defensive effort was enough to pull off a win to turn an entire season.
(Photo by John Kelley/UGA Sports Communications)
The Bulldogs are now back in front of the SEC East race after spoiling Florida's unbeaten season with a 17-9 upset victory on Saturday at windy EverBank Field.
The victory came after a chippy, sloppy game filled with turnovers, penalties and stingy, bone-rattling defense by both sides.
In Georgia's case, the defensive performance was a dramatic improvement from struggles of recent weeks, coming on the heels of safety Shawn Williams' public challenge to his teammates Monday.
"I'd say we were not soft," UGA coach Mark Richt said. "The defense rose to the occasion, and everyone fought their tails off. ... Our seniors played well, and I know it's a game they'll remember for the rest of their lives."
"I think that Shawn issues us a challenge this week and everyone stepped up to it," linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "Today we came out ready to play."
Third-ranked Florida (7-1, 6-1 SEC) never led the game nor reached the end zone, losing six turnovers to Georgia (7-1, 5-1) after committing four all season entering Saturday.
Two of those were fumbles forced by Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones, who returned from injury to produce a stat line of: 13 tackles, 3 sacks, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray fired three first-half interceptions of his own.
But with game in the balance, Georgia's offense finally got its big play. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell broke a third-and-5 pass for a 45-yard catch-and-run touchdown to put Georgia in front 17-9 with 7:11 remaining.
In response, Florida drove inside Georgia's 5-yard line before Jarvis Jones knocked the ball out of Jordan Reed's hands on a long pass play and Sanders Commings recovered the fumble in the end zone.
The victory was Georgia's second in a row against Florida, and it seemed possible early.
The Bulldogs opened the scoring 2:58 into the game, when they turned the first Gators fumble into a 10-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley, who finished with a tough 118 yards on 27 carries.
Florida fought back with a pair of field goals in the second quarter but was threatening the end zone when Bacarri Rambo intercepted a pass to end the first half.
The Gators kept giving the Bulldogs opportunities in the third quarter, giving UGA the ball at the Florida 26 and 25 with respective turnovers. Those miscues only turned into three points, however, as UGA couldn't find the end zone and Marshall Morgan went 1-of-2 on field goal attempts.
Florida cut the lead to 10-9 early in the fourth quarter, but Mitchell's catch-and-run touchdown ended a drive that was extended by a holding penalty by the Gators' defense.
After a month away from Sanford Stadium, Georgia returns home next Saturday to host Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2), which won at Arkansas on Saturday.
Now with the tiebreaker over Florida, victories over Ole Miss and Auburn the next two weeks will send Georgia back to the SEC championship game for the second year in a row.
"We haven't won the East yet," Richt said, "but we're in control of it."