One-two punch: Jones, Taylor tear it up for Florida vs. Georgia
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Which team is it again that had one of the best rushing attacks in the nation? Which one was struggling in a disarray with its embattled head coach on the hot seat?
Welcome to the Southeastern Conference East Division, where down is up and black is white. ...
And the Florida Gators uncharacteristically dominated.
UF gashed the rival Georgia Bulldogs behind a devastating ground attack, with tailbacks Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones nearly gaining 200 yards each and leading the double-digit underdog Gators to a dominant 38-20 upset of ninth-ranked Georgia in their annual SEC rivalry showdown at EverBank Field on Saturday.
"Let me get this thing off my back," Florida coach Will Muschamp said of the metaphoric and invisible monkey that grew with each of the 10 losses in his team's previous 13 games. "That's one less thing for you to write about."
Actually, it was one really good thing to write about; one that was a long time in coming.
The victory was the biggest for the Gators (4-3, 3-3) since crushing Florida State to end the 2012 regular season. More importantly, it was Muschamp's first victory over Georgia (6-2, 4-2), his alma mater and a team that started the day not only in command of the SEC East, but in play for a spot in the inaugural college football playoff.
"We want this one for our coach," said senior center Max Garcia, a team captain now with a much better chance to end his career in a bowl game. "We wanted it for ourselves."
They didn't just go after it, they seized it in a physical and imposing fashion, taking over the line of scrimmage and steamrolling to the most rushing yards (418) for a UF team in 25 years. It came against a run defense that was ranked second only to Alabama in the league, allowing just 105.1 per game.
Taylor rushed 25 times for a career-high 197 yards and two touchdowns — including an electrifying 65-yard score late in the fourth quarter. Jones matched those 25 attempts with a career-best 192 yards and two scores, including a 44-yarder on the first possession of the second half to open a 24-7 advantage. Together, the Taylor-Jones monster became the first UF rushing tandem to eclipse 100 yards since Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in 2011 against Kentucky ... and did it going away.
"We were going to pound them and pound them and were going to keep pounding them," Taylor said. "We weren't going to be denied. We just kept running hard, and everything else happened."
Added Jones: "They knew we were going to run the ball, but we still ran the ball on them."
UF's 418 rushing yards was the most by a Florida team dating to a 466-yard outburst against New Mexico in 1989 and the most in an SEC game since totaling 454 against Vanderbilt in 1975.
"Four hundred yards rushing," Georgia coach Mark Richt lamented. "That was the story of the game. We couldn't run the way we like to and they did."
After Taylor's lighting-bolt dash in the final period, junior offensive tackle D.J Humphries reveled alongside position coach Mike Summers as Georgia's black-and-red half of the stadium emptied.
"Look at that, Coach," Humphries beamed. "What a beautiful sight."
The powerhouse, smash-mouth display from the Gators' running game dwarfed Florida's biggest pregame storyline: The first collegiate start for true freshman quarterback Treon Harris.
In replacing struggling fourth-year junior Jeff Driskel, Harris was asked to do little other than facilitate the UF rushing attack, attempting only six passes (completing three) for 27 yards. He turned the ball over once on a botched handoff.
"We actually did have a plan to throw some passes in the game ... but why stop running the ball when you're able to gain yards?" Muschamp said. "We've always been a blue-collar identity team (on) offense."
Whatever spark Harris may or may not have provided the offense, it was more than enough — and it played nicely off the rejuventated Florida defense that started slowly but made life miserable for Georgia quarterback Hudson Mason (319 yards, one touchdown) and friends from the second quarter on.
The Bulldogs came in averaging 265.9 yards rushing per game, third best in the SEC and 15th best in the country. True freshman tailback Nick Chubb finished with 156 yards after gaining more than 100 in the first period, but Georgia ended with just 141 on the ground.
"We felt all week we were going to win the game," junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said.
It took a sneaky play early in the second quarter to set the game's tone.
Trailing 7-0, UF's biggest rushing yards of the game may have been the 21 gained by walk-on wideout Michael McNeely, when he stood up from his spot as holder on what appeared to be a UF field-goal try, then stood up and zipped through the Georgia defense for an untouched touchdown that tied it and sent a powerful injection of adrenaline into the Florida sideline.
"It was great to get the ball rolling in the right direction," McNeely said.
The fake field-goal score came on a fourth-and-9 from the Georgia 21. McNeely, a senior wide receiver from Clearwater, Fla., who was awarded a scholarship during the preseason, got a great block downfield from tight end Tevin Westbrook that cleared his way into the second level. The touchdown capped a 14-play, 78-yard drive on Florida's fourth possession, after the Gators gained just 42 yards the first three times they had the ball.
"That changed the momentum of the game," cornerback Brian Poole said.
On the very next possession, UF's defense smothered Georgia for a three-and-out, with the Gators answering with a five-play, 64-yard march that was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Taylor. The son of UF icon Fred Taylor also had a 44-yard run on the drive to help set up the 14-7 lead that stood till halftime.
On the first series of the third quarter, Jones broke free for his 44-yard score and after another Georgia three-and-out, Frankie Velez kicked a 21-yard field goal to push the Gators in front 24-7 and commence the rout.
A 1-yard touchdown run from Jones made it 31-7 barely a minute into the fourth quarter. And while the Bulldogs finally got back on the scoreboard with a tipped 10-yard touchdown pass from Mason to Chubb, Taylor quickly cancelled it out with his 65-yard dash that made it 38-13.
"We needed this one bad," Jones said. "We came into this game with a head full of steam from (losing) this one game three times in a row."
Like a runaway train, the Gators highballed all the way back to Gainesville.