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No. 22 Georgia Gets Rare Win Over Florida, 24-20

10:10 PM, Oct 29, 2011   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Georgia coach Mark Richt may have saved his job with two gutsy, fourth-down calls.

Aaron Murray threw two touchdown passes on fourth down, and the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs overcame several mistakes to beat Southeastern Conference rival Florida 24-20 Saturday and keep pace with South Carolina in the Eastern Division.  

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It was Georgia's fourth victory in the last 22 games against Florida and could be a big one for Richt. He had been under pressure since losing his first two games this season.

Now, the Bulldogs (6-2, 5-1 SEC) have won six straight.

The Gators have lost four in a row for the first time since 1988, a streak that certainly will taint coach Will Muschamp's first season in Gainesville.

The latest loss came against Muschamp's alma mater and eliminated Florida (4-4, 2-4) in the division race.

Georgia players and coaches celebrated in the end zone after the win, nearly the same spot that caused such a stir four years ago. Richt's son jumped into arms and gave dad a big, ol' hug. This one was special, and everyone knew it.

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Like so many times before in this series, Georgia found ways to try to give the game away. The Bulldogs allowed a touchdown on a fourth-and-19 play in the first quarter, gave up a 99-yard kickoff return, missed two field goals and had a ball bounce off a running back's helmet for an interception.

The Gators had their chances, too.

John Brantley, playing for the first time since badly spraining his right ankle four weeks ago, had some success early. He threw for 226 yards in the first half but was mediocre at best after the break. The Gators managed 32 yards in the second half, another paltry performance that showed how far the team has fallen since winning the 2008 national championship.

Nonetheless, Florida led 17-3 before two turnovers gave Georgia short fields. And Richt, quite possibly with his job on the line, didn't want to squander the opportunities.

Chris Rainey fumbled at the end of a 17-yard run, giving the Bulldogs great field position. They didn't do much with the ball, but Richt went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Florida 20. Instead of simply trying to move the chains, Murray found Michael Bennett for a touchdown just before halftime. Bennett made a leaping catch over Jaylen Watkins.

The Gators gave the ball away again early in the third. Frankie Hammond fumbled deep in Florida territory. The Bulldogs called three consecutive runs, making it look like they were content to settle for a field goal. Not Richt. He kept his offense on the field for a fourth-and-6 play at the 14.

Murray threw a jump ball to the corner, and Tavarres King came down with it over Marcus Roberson. The 14-yard score tied at the game at 17.

Florida followed with a 63-yard kickoff return, which led to a field goal and a 20-17 lead.

It was short-lived. Georgia, which had scored first in every game this season, took its first lead on Richard Samuel's 4-yard run early in the fourth quarter.

The defense did the rest, pressuring Brantley, minimizing speedsters Rainey and Jeff Demps.

Jarvis Jones led the way with four sacks.

Brantley completed 12 of 34 passes for 245 yards, with a touchdown. He was sacked six times. Rainey ran five times for 26 yards. Demps had a 72-yard reception on the first play from scrimmage but was a non-factor the rest of the way.

Murray was 15 of 34 passing for 169 yards, with an interception. He was sacked three times but also ran for 42 yards.

Brantley was sacked five times in the first half, only part of Florida's problems. The Gators missed a field goal, were penalized 14 times and lost two fumbles.

But Florida led 17-10 at the break thanks to Jeff Demps' 99-yard kickoff return and a fourth-and-19 call that was more surreal than savvy.

The Gators had the ball at the Georgia 20-yard line midway through the first quarter, but a false start and a sack left the Gators at the 31. With starting place-kicker Caleb Sturgis sidelined because of a leg injury, it seemed like an ideal spot for a punt. Florida could try to pin Georgia deep or, worst-case scenario, kick it into the end zone and put the Bulldogs on the 20.

Instead, Florida's offense stayed on the field. Brantley avoided a sack, stepped up in the pocket and found Jordan Reed down the middle for a touchdown. Reed beat Alec Ogletree, who was playing his first game since breaking his foot in the season opener, for the score.

The Gators made it 14-3 in the second quarter on Demps' long return. It was the latest special teams breakdown for the Bulldogs, who allowed a 96-yarder two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.

 

Associated Press

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