Athens, GA - One day after taking down archrival Florida in a 17-9 victory in the two teams’ annual matchup in Jacksonville, Fla., the Georgia Bulldogs are still enjoying the victory against the No. 2 ranked team in the nation.
“It’s always going to be meaningful because it’s a great rivalry game,” said Georgia head coach Mark Richt on Sunday afternoon, one day following his Bulldogs’ second straight victory over the Gators. “It’s a unique game, and it’s a unique setting to have the fan base split like that. I would think that if I’m a fan and my team wins that day, and I’m walking out of that stadium and having to deal with everybody, it’s probably a lot more fun than losing.”
Emotions were running high in the annual rivalry game, as evidenced by the Bulldogs’ season-high 14 penalties for a loss of 132 yards.
“That might have been one of the most intense games I’ve ever coached from start to finish,” Richt said. “You don’t want to have a lot of penalties that can hurt you and cause you to have to punt or let your opponent get into field goal range. You don’t want that. You don’t want to help the other team at all, but emotions were so high and the officials were in the heart of it. They were trying to do whatever they could to slow it down. They knew our guys wanted to get after each other, and they just didn’t want it to escalate. So, we’ve got to keep them from doing that, but on the other hand, I don’t want to lose intensity. You want intensity with discipline. I certainly didn’t want to slow down anybody’s ability to keep their blood high.”
The Georgia defense was the story of the game, forcing six Florida fumbles and a pair of interceptions. All-American outside linebacker Jarvis Jones proved to be the spark that led the defense, totaling 13 tackles (12 of them unassisted), two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
“He really was just everywhere with the tackles, the sacks, the tackles for loss, the forced fumbles, the fumble recoveries,” said Richt when talking about his defensive leader. “It was also just the timeliness of his plays. It was very fitting that he was the guy that caused that last fumble.”
After struggling in the South Carolina game back on Oct. 6, Richt was also quick to credit the Georgia offensive line on Sunday for their part in the Bulldogs’ win against the Gators.
“After watching the film (from yesterday’s game), they did protect pretty good,” Richt commented. “At times, they did create some space for our runners. Our line did block better than we did a week ago, there’s no doubt about that.”
With the victory, the Bulldogs move into first place in the SEC Eastern Division, and wins in their next two games over Ole Miss and Auburn would secure Georgia a spot in the SEC Championship game for the second consecutive season.
The Bulldogs will first turn their attention to Ole Miss, as they host the Rebels this Saturday in Sanford Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on CBS. Ole Miss is coming off a 30-27 victory against Arkansas this past Saturday, thanks to a 31-yard field goal in the closing seconds by kicker Bryson Rose.
“They’ve got every reason to believe they can win out,” Richt said about the Rebels. “They have a really good team to (be able to) win the last two games that they’ve played. They very easily could have won the Texas A&M game, and that would have been three league wins in a row. When you start chasing success, you start getting excited and believing in yourself. They’re on the rise right now, and when you play a team that has a lot of momentum, they’re hard to beat.”
Richt also noted the importance of the team staying focused, getting mentally prepared and continuing to practice hard just as they did last week.
“Like Jarvis said after the game against Florida, this victory really doesn’t mean anything unless we keep winning,” said Richt. “Of course, he’s talking about the race for the Eastern Division. We know that we have to win and continue to play like we did this last game. I’ve been watching film already on Ole Miss, and the first thing I watched on their defense was their first half against Alabama. They played tremendously well. They really did a great job in that ball game in the first half. Offensively, they can move the ball in a lot of different ways. They’re a very high-tempo team, and they do a lot of things that create problems for defenses. We definitely have our work cut out for us.”
The Bulldogs will hope for the return of redshirt freshman fullback Merritt Hall on Saturday after he went down against Florida with a sprained ankle.
“Merritt sprained his ankle on the very first play from scrimmage,” said Richt, when commenting about Hall’s injury. “He had some contact with their defensive end, and I guess it got torqued the wrong way. He got in an awkward position and sprained his ankle. But Zander (Ogletree) came in and played a heck of a ballgame, and he was very physical in his blocking. He didn’t seem to have many mental errors at all. He caught the ball a couple of times and had a nice first down. But, Merritt has played well for us all year, and we’re hoping to get him back as soon as we can.”