No. 11 Florida shuts down Georgia to move closer to SEC East title
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida will hold off raising a glass for at least another week.
Kelvin Taylor ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns, Antonio Callaway delivered another huge play and the 11th-ranked Gators beat rival Georgia 27-3 Saturday to move a step closer to the Southeastern Conference title game.
The Gators dominated the "World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" by holding the Bulldogs to 223 total yards and a field goal.
"It should have been a shutout," defensive tackle Jon Bullard said.
It was good enough for Florida’s second straight win in the storied series and 20th in the last 26 years.
This one left the Gators (7-1, 5-1) one conference victory from clinching the East, which is big part of coach Jim McElwain’s edict of "restoring the order" by getting Florida back to SEC prominence.
"I don’t expect to lose," McElwain said. "We should never go into an event thinking we’re going to come in second. The one thing you learn real quickly in this business is there are no participation ribbons. It doesn’t matter who we play, we go in with a mindset that we’re going to put a plan to do whatever it takes to win the football game."
The Gators can wrap up the East by beating Vanderbilt next week. If that happens, Florida would earn its first trip to Atlanta since Tim Tebow’s senior year in 2009.
Georgia (5-3, 3-3) has few, if any, mathematical chances of winning the East. The loss was nearly as ugly as that 28-point debacle at home to Alabama in early October and surely will turn up the heat on longtime coach Mark Richt.
"If you are a leader in any way, shape or form, you are going to be criticized, in good times and in bad times," said Richt, who fell to 5-10 in the series. "That’s part of it. … Our jobs as head coaches are very, very public and very, very emotional because you have so many people who care so much about their program."
Richt’s decision to change quarterbacks did nothing to spark a sputtering offense. Richt benched Greyson Lambert, who failed to throw a touchdown pass against Vanderbilt, Alabama and Missouri. But instead of turning to backup Brice Ramsey, Richt called on Faton Bauta to make his first career start.
"We felt like Faton performed well enough to get the nod, and that’s what we did," Richt said.
The junior from West Palm Beach completed 15 of 33 passes for 154 yards, with four interceptions. His third came in the end zone, with Georgia trying to make it 20-10.
"You have to learn to take the positives away from it," Bauta said. "You sit there and think you’re the worst player of all time, that’s not going to help. It’s not good. Obviously a bad start, but it’s a start."
Making things tougher on Bauta, the Bulldogs managed just 69 yards rushing. Sony Michel carried 13 times for 45 yards.
Florida put the game away midway through the fourth, thanks to Jordan Scarlett’s 60-yard scamper and Taylor’s 16-yard score. Taylor put an ankle-breaking move on cornerback Malkom Parrish before finding the end zone for the 10th time this season.
Taylor ran for 197 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia last season, but hasn’t been nearly as good since. He vowed this week, though, to put together another big game. And he delivered — in the stadium his father, retired NFL running back Fred Taylor, called home for 11 seasons.
"Based on what’s happened, we ought to make this our home stadium for him," McElwain said. "He’s done a heck of a job here."
The Gators built a 20-0 lead at halftime thanks to three huge plays — one from the offense, one from the defense and one from special teams. Nick Washington recovered a muffed punt in the end zone. Treon Harris scrambled and found Callaway for a 66-yard score down the sideline. And Vernon Hargreaves III returned an interception to the 5, setting up Taylor’s first TD.
The Gators coasted from there, moving oh-so-close to "restoring the order."
"It’s not about thinking about going to the championship," McElwain said. "It’s about what do we do right now to get better because the championship will never come if we don’t take care of the now. And our guys are getting that."