Originally found on CBS Sports:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If you’re looking for some profound take from the press box following the latest edition of Florida-Georgia, sorry, don’t have much for you other than the obvious: You can’t trick these Dawgs.
That’s it. That’s the hot lava. Well, that and No. 1 Georgia making perhaps its biggest statement of the season in a 43-20 win over its biggest rival. The effort was aided by Florida, mind you, but let’s not stray too far from the point.
You can’t outscheme talent. Various teams in this rivalry have tried, but as long as Georgia’s defense has its thumb on the scales, there are going to be more of these results. Saturday marked the latest conquest, the Bulldogs’ 25th consecutive win. In SEC history, only Alabama has ever won that many in a row.
“‘Bama bodies,” said one NFL scout who witnessed the carnage inflicted by Georgia’s D, “from about seven or eight years ago.”
That was a roundabout compliment to what Georgia is and what Alabama was. Maybe those two will hash it out again in December. For now, the Dawgs hammered home the point in hammering the Gators for the sixth time in the last seven years …
You gotta man up against Georgia.
OK, so the Dawgs were probably going to win this game even if Gators coach Billy Napier had not called two ill-advised gadget plays that failed early in the first. In the process, Florida also provided a lesson plan for how not to attack Georgia.
“That’s just what teams do against us,” Georgia defensive lineman Zion Logue said. “They don’t really run at us, they try to run around us. … They try to get us tired, but they don’t really know we run a lot during the week.”
Which allows the Dawgs to run down the opposition on Saturdays.
The result was turning Gators quarterback Graham Mertz — coming off his career-best game (423 yards passing at South Carolina) — into a king of check downs. There was also a punt block for a safety and strip sack that, incredibly, resulted in Georgia’s defense recovering its first fumble of the season.
It all contributed to a 36-0 run after Florida scored on its first possession. Georgia coach Kirby Smart continues to own the rivalry. Those six wins have been by an average of 23.5 points.
The result reverberated all the way from here at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee meeting room in Irving, Texas. That’s where the first CFP Rankings will emanate from Tuesday.
On Saturday, Georgia made a statement: The Dawgs deserve to be No. 1 in that first poll.
Not that it necessarily matters this early in the process, but don’t forget the main thing being the main thing — a run at an historic third consecutive national championship.
“I don’t address it,” Smart said. “I think they hear it because they’re on their phones 24/7. It bothers me that they may hear that or they may feel anxiety or feel pressure. … At the end of the day, the quickest way to lose [a game] is to think about that. … When you think about attacking somebody and coming after them every play with the mindset of, ”Friday the 13th,’ they can’t kill Jason. He keeps coming back, man.’ You’ve got to keep going that way.”
We can begin to discuss more seriously the concept of a three-peat now that the 2023 season is nine weeks old. The result deflected from the biggest question coming into the game. No Brock Bowers? No problem for Georgia. Missing his All-American star tight end, all QB Carson Beck did was spread the ball around to eight receivers. What’s left of a defense that has had 19 draftees the last three years — eight in the first round — did the rest.
“I think the total effect is, kids believe,” Smart added. “There is a culture in our building. We don’t get [many] penalties, we don’t beat ourselves, and we have a quarterback who gives us an opportunity. And we’ve got defensive players who play really hard. It’s a recipe for you to have success.”
Eventually, all dynasties must peter out. This one isn’t even close. Saturday was proof of concept with the Dawgs rounding into shape. This wasn’t struggling with South Carolina (24-13) or rallying at Auburn (27-20), this was utilizing the bye week to expose one of Georgia’s fiercest rivals.
Gators everywhere will regret how Saturday crumbled so quickly. On Florida’s second possession, Florida had the ball near midfield leading 7-3. On third-and-9, there was a funky flea flicker play called that resulted Mertz getting sacked and fumbling. (Florida recovered.)
On the Gators’ next possession, Napier went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34. As the play caller, he thought it was a good idea to line Mertz up in the shotgun, move him under center and then purposefully snap the ball between Mertz’s legs to running back Trevor Etienne about four yards behind the QB.
The Georgia defense arrived in the backfield like it was late to a rave. Etienne was stopped for a 3-yard loss, and the Dawgs extended their lead three plays later as part of scoring 21 straight points in 7:03 of game time.
“Typically, when you play Billy, he’s very aggressive when it comes to analytics,” Smart said. “He has a lot of fourth downs he goes for it. You win some, you lose some.”
And some open the floodgate for criticism. That fourth-down gamble harkened back to the infamous Fourth-and-Dumb in 1976. That year, Florida coach Doug Dickey went for it from his own 29 leading by seven in the second half. The failed attempt sparked a 21-0 Georgia run in a 41-27 win.
Was Saturday’s gamble Fourth-and-Dumber?
Like we said, Georgia was probably going to win anyway. This was more like a conversation piece. It was easy to defend the decision to go for it. The call? That was something else. If you’re Florida trying to prove your manhood against a hated rival, why use play tricks?
You know what’s waiting.
“We wanted to come out and just show people we’re still that Georgia defense,” Logue said, “the best of the best.”