JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This was the defense Georgia expected to have.
After a season filled with suspensions, miscommunication and even accusations of soft play, the Bulldogs came together in resounding fashion in Saturday's 17-9 win over Florida. Georgia limited the Gators to 266 yards and forced six turnovers and held them without a touchdown in this series for the first time since 1988.
"They're a run-first-team, and we knew that if we could take away the run to where they had to throw the ball, we could get some matchups that we liked," Bulldogs sophomore cornerback Damian Swann said. "We had some sacks and we had some forced fumbles, and we did a good job pressuring."
Swann had a sack, a forced fumble and a 15-yard interception return, but the star of the show was junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. Topping his four-sack performance in last year's game, Jones racked up 13 tackles, 4.5 for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Jones also made the game-sealing play by stripping Florida tight end Jordan Reed inside Georgia's 5-yard line with 2:05 remaining, causing a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Sanders Commings in the end zone.
"I just knew that if they had scored the game would have been close, and who knows what would have happened if that game had gotten close," Jones said. "I just took my best shot at stripping him. It was definitely a big play."
And a big day for a suddenly energized unit that had been underachieving and was called out for being soft by safety Shawn Williams last Monday night.
"It was Florida. It was Shawn Williams challenging everybody. It was the critics," Swann said. "A lot of people didn't pick us to win, and we had a lot to prove. We went out there like we didn't have anything to lose, and now all we've got to do is win out and we're back in Atlanta [for the SEC title game]."
Georgia entered Saturday allowing 367.4 yards a game, which ranked ninth in the SEC. The Bulldogs gave up 347 yards to Buffalo, 318 to Florida Atlantic and 329 to Kentucky before awaking at EverBank Field to post a season low.
The Gators were averaging 212.7 rushing yards a game but were held to 81.
"I don't think anybody realizes what these kids have been through because of the suspensions we had," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "It's been a three-cycle thing in the sense that early in the year we had some guys playing who were young. Then in the middle, we had the transition of guys coming back to their positions, and the confidence wasn't there really against Kentucky last week.
"Finally enough was enough, and the guys stepped up and performed. They've always believed and worked hard, and if you look at our numbers, they've always been better in the fourth quarter than the first quarter."
Florida coach Will Muschamp credited Georgia's defense for making his offense one-dimensional. Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel wound up with 185 yards on 14-of-26 passing, but he was sacked five times and threw two interceptions, giving the Gators many disastrous moments when dropping back in the pocket.
Gators tailback Mike Gillislee had a couple of nice receptions out of the backfield but was slowed on the ground, rushing 22 times for 77 yards.
"I'm really proud of our guys for what they've done this year," Grantham said. "One of the reasons I wanted to come to Georgia was for moments like this."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...