No. 3 Georgia steamrolled Florida 42-7 in Jacksonville to move to 8-0 on the season and 5-0 in the SEC. The Bulldogs now head into November with legitimate College Football Playoff hopes and what seems to be a sure-fire showdown with Alabama. Sony Michel ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries, the Georgia defense stymied the Florida offense and sacked quarterback Feleipe Franks five times, and the Bulldogs simply dominated the Gators on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Florida lost its third straight SEC game, dropped to 3-4 (3-3 SEC) on the season and is off to its worst start in a season since 1986. UF coach Jim McElwain also went from being a sure bet to return in 2018 to on arguably the hottest seat in the nation.
What did we learn in Georgia’s win?
1. Georgia has a case to be No. 1 in the CFP: The first edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings will be released Tuesday night, and it’s a near-certainty that Georgia will be with Ohio State and Alabama in the top three. The win over Florida, though, created a strong case for the Bulldogs to be No. 1 overall.
No, it wasn’t due to the competition. Florida is a mess, and Alabama has been hanging out with the No. 1 ranking throughout the course of the year. But take history and immediacy out of the equation, and Georgia has a pretty strong case. It allowed just 249 yards to the Gators and entered the day ranked third in the nation in total defense. The running game is as stout as any in America — including the one in Tuscaloosa — with Michel, Nick Chubb and D’Andre Swift leading the way.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Top four is top four, and that’s what’s important. But don’t be surprised if the CFP Selection Committee rewards Georgia a little bit for what it’s done so far this year in Kirby Smart’s second year at the helm — especially if it sets up intriguing matchups involving the Bulldogs down the road.
2. Florida is at a crossroads: The day started with Florida denying reports that it is negotiating a buyout of McElwain with his agent Jimmy Sexton. It ended with one of the most embarrassing losses in the program’s history. If that conversation truly hadn’t started Saturday morning, it might start Saturday night.
McElwain’s tumultuous relationship with Florida appears to be coming to a head. During the game, ESPN reported that the university is exploring if it can fire him with cause after he brought up death threats to his family during a press conference Monday afternoon. Since then, the program and McElwain have participated in a passive aggressive dance in which the school clearly implied doubt in McElwain’s claims, and McElwain tried his best to walk those claims back as best he could. Earlier this week, Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports detailed the divide between the two sides, and this game will only muddy up those waters more.
Relationships aside, though, McElwain’s job performance alone should have people questioning his fit. He came to Gainesville as an offensive savior, a breath of fresh air, a 180-degree turn from the failed four-year Will Muschamp experiment. Instead, McElwain’s tenure in Gainesville has been very “Muschampian.”
Offensive issues persisted throughout his first two seasons that, to his credit, did culminate with SEC East wins. But they also included blowout losses to Florida State at the end of the regular season and Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
This year, it’s more of the same. What’s more, it’s more of the same with his guys. He recruited Feleipe Franks as the quarterback of the future. He created doubts by luring former Notre Dame signal-caller Malik Zaire as a graduate transfer. He pulled Franks in place of Luke Del Rio vs. Kentucky and sent Zaire to the bench for the better part of a month. Strained relationship or not, it’s not supposed to be like this.
3. Georgia will play in Atlanta: No, not officially. But after clearing the mental hurdle in Jacksonville and beating Florida — something that the Bulldogs haven’t done since 2013 — Georgia will be playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Dec. 2. Now two games clear of the rest of the division — with South Carolina, Kentucky and Auburn left on the schedule — it would take a colossal meltdown to prevent the red and black from playing the first SEC title game in the new building.
It wouldn’t be just one or two issues that cause that meltdown, either. The depth that Smart has amassed on the defensive side of the ball can get through that stretch and at least limit the damage even if one or two key players get hurt. They’re five-deep at running back, two-deep at quarterback with Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason, and as disciplined as any Bulldog team in recent memory.
They seem like an East version of Alabama, complete with a coach who preaches “process,” a roster that’s so deep that it prevents complacency and enough momentum to fill the Peach State.
4. Fromm can handle this: One look at Fromm’s stats, and you probably won’t be too impressed. After all, he tossed just seven passes, completed four and was really only asked to manage the game. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that he can’t handle big time throws when he needs to, because that’s false. He just doesn’t have to.
But did you see his 17-yard touchdown to Javon Wims? That was a pro throw, across the field on a back shoulder fade. It’s the same throw that David Greene, Aaron Murray, Matt Stafford and countless other Bulldogs signal-callers made throughout their careers. That’s a sign. A sign that Fromm is wise beyond his years, and ready for the challenge.
Plan A for the Bulldogs, though, is to do what they did to the Gators — dominate.
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