Georgia blocks out the noise to win a key SEC showdown with Florida, 24-17

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm embaces head coach Kirby Smart after a 24-17 win over Florida in Jacksonville.Matt Stamey/USA Today
Tony Barnhart

Jacksonville, Fla.—Over the past three weeks and in various forms, the University of Georgia football team was getting the same message from outside:

“Hey, maybe you guys just aren’t that good.”

Georgia was ranked No. 3 behind Clemson and Alabama on Oct. 12 when South Carolina (a team that is now 3-5) came to Athens and beat the Bulldogs 20-17 in double overtime.

A week later Georgia played in a driving rainstorm and won an ugly 21-0 game from Kentucky. Then there was a week off

Suddenly the doubts began to set in as fans questioned everything from the play calling to whether or not quarterback Jake Fromm really had what it took to be a top-flight quarterback.

“Yeah, we heard the noise,” said Fromm. “But we had to decide whether or not as a team we were going to listen to it. Or were we going to ignore it and become the team we want to be?”

No. 8 Georgia answered the critics and doubters on Saturday by beating No. 6 Florida 24-17 before 84,789 at TIAA Bank Field.

In the process Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC) kept its hopes alive of going to the SEC championship game for the third straight year. Win out and then win in Atlanta on Dec. 7 and the Bulldogs are likely headed to the College Football Playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

None of that seemed remotely possible after the inexplicable loss to South Carolina.

“I really never doubted this team,” said Georgia Coach Kirby Smart. “We wanted or leaders to guide us. They embraced the challenge. We control how we play.”

Nobody played a bigger role than Fromm, the junior, who completed 20 of 30 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time in Fromm’s career that has thrown 30 passes in a game and his team still won.

But in the weeks leading up to this game, Fromm had come under criticism and scrutiny, especially with former quarterback Justin Fields, his backup at Georgia in 2018, lighting up the scoreboard at Ohio State.

During the off week Smart had a couple of meals with his quarterback.

“I just wanted to check on him,” said Smart. “He is a tremendous competitor. He is not a silver spoon kid. He’s a working kid.”

“This game was all about us jelling as a team,” said Fromm, who threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager after Florida had scored to cut the Georgia margin to 16-10 in the fourth quarter. “Now we’ve won this game and it’s on the next game. We played a four-quarter game today and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Cager, a transfer from Miami, returned for the first time since getting injured in the South Carolina game. He responded with the best game of his career, catching seven passes for 132 years.

“There were a lot of people who said we didn’t have play makers,” said Cager. “Yes, we heard the noise but we made up our minds that we were going to stay focused and block it out.”

Georgia’s defense held Florida to 21 yards rushing. Georgia’s offensive line held the Gators, who had gotten their best two pass rushers back into the lineup, without a quarterback sack.

“Our guys up front were special,” said Smart. “They were blocking some really good guys.”

“Give their offensive line credit,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen. “They did a good job with not allowing pressure.”

Georgia’s offense converted 12 of 18 third down situations.

While Georgia cleared a big hurdle in winning its third straight game against Florida, there is much work to be done.

The Bulldogs still have three SEC games remaining against Missouri at home, at Auburn, and home against Texas A&M. Beat Missouri and Georgia could clinch a spot in the SEC championship game with a win at Auburn on Nov. 16.

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