"It’s a beautiful thing to get into victory formation, especially here in Jacksonville."
That’s what Georgia coach Mark Richt said after his Bulldogs defeated Florida, 23-20, on Saturday. His postgame remarks, and the others in this column, were transcribed at georgiadogs.com.
"Any time you can get out of here with a win, it’s special," Richt added.
Richt speaks from experience. He came out a loser in 8 of his first 10 games against the Gators. Of course, he’s now beaten the Gators three straight. If you’re looking for a bigger trend, the teams have split their past 10 meetings.
The series has turned. And that’s saying something. Though the series remains relatively close — Georgia holds the overall lead, 49-40-2 — this rivalry has featured long runs of dominance by both teams.
From their initial meeting in 1904 through 1951, Georgia rolled to a 24-5-1 series lead. That stretch included two seven-game winning streaks and one of six games.
Florida turned the tables with a 30-0 romp in 1952 and proceeded to win 10 of 12 through 1963.
Then Vince Dooley arrived in Athens, and the slide stopped. He started out only 5-4-1 against the Gators, but most of the wins were epic. His first team, a 10-point underdog to the 9th-ranked Gators, upset Florida, 14-7, when kicker Bobby Etter picked up an errant snap on a field goal attempt and ran in for the winning touchdown.
Dooley’s 1966 team ruined the Heisman season of Florida quarterback Steve Spurrier. Georgia’s decisive 27-10 upset denied the Gators their first SEC title and led to Dooley’s first. Two years later, Dooley’s Dogs again won the SEC, steamrolling the Gators, 51-0. His 11-1 team edged Florida, 49-7, in 1971.
After those first 10 games, Dooley ran up a 12-3 record against Florida, including six in a row from 1978-83.
Dooley retired after the 1988 season, and Ray Goff managed to beat Florida in his first attempt. That loss so galled the Florida administration that they went out and procured the services of coach Spurrier.
Between them, Spurrier and Goff turned the series back in the Gators favor, and Florida won 18 of the next 21 games.
Now it appears the series has undergone another seismic shift. The proof was in the manner in which the two teams went about their business on Saturday.
Georgia came out with confidence and played with precision. Their opening drive went 75 yards in seven plays. It took only 2:45 for Georgia to grab a 7-0 lead.
Florida had an answer, as Tyler Murphy hit Quinton Dunbar with an 83-yard pass. From the Georgia 10-yard line, the Gators ran three plays for two yards and then had Solomon Patton garner a foolish personal foul penalty. Francisco Velez ended the drive by missing a 40-yard field goal attempt.
It took Georgia just three plays to negotiate 77 yards, the final 73 coming on a pass and run between Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley.
Not even six minutes into the game, Georgia led, 14-0. Georgia looked every bit as efficient and unbeatable as Florida used to look in this game. And Florida displayed the stunned, shell-shocked demeanor and uncontrolled emotions that characterized the Dogs for so long in this series.
"Everybody just really had to calm down," said Patton, being sure to include himself. "This is such a big game, and I think everybody needed to calm down."
Added linebacker Michael Taylor: "We knew we could play a lot better than how we were playing in the first half. They were executing; we didn’t."
"We dug ourselves too big of a hole," Florida coach Will Muschamp added, "especially the big plays on defense early in the game. We had a third-down situation and gave up a 73-yard touchdown when we had a four-man pressure to the running back!"
How telling is that? During Muschamps’ tenure, Florida has relied on a stout defense to carry an inept offense. How could this stellar unit be so ill-equipped to handle Georgia’s initial offensive gambits?
The end game also proved revealing. Florida had battled back into the game, had Georgia on its heels and had the ball in Georgia territory with a chance to take the lead.
They promptly lost 16 yards in three plays.
Even worse, they allowed Georgia to run off the final 8:17 of the game. They let Georgia convert four third downs and drive 70 yards. And they threw in another personal foul penalty for good measure.
When crunch time came, the Gators cracked.
But not Aaron Murray. He completed three crucial passes on that final drive to become just the third Georgia quarterback to defeat the Gators three times in a row. Murray understands that this game requires something special.
"You always say, ‘Every game is the same.’ But this one is different," Murray said. "There’s a different feel to it. The atmosphere is different. To go out and beat these guys three years in a row, which hasn’t happened in 24 years, is just an awesome feeling."
A feeling the Gators used to know well.