JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There’s something about beating Florida that brings out the raw emotion in Georgia coach Mark Richt and his family.
His 15-year old son Zach jumped to hug him after the No. 22 Bulldogs’ 24-20 win Saturday. The victory was important for the Bulldogs in the SEC East race and might have been crucial for Richt in holding onto the job he’s had since 2001.
Georgia lost on its past three trips to Jacksonville since Richt and his wife Katharyn kissed on the field in 2007 after a 42-30 victory, but the Bulldogs celebrated a win over the Gators for just the third time in 11 seasons under Richt and fourth time in 22 tries overall.
In the lead-up to Saturday, Richt wanted his players to keep the game in perspective and not focus on any of that, but he let down his guard afterwards.
“Now that it’s over and we won, it was a big deal,” Richt said. “It was a big deal for me personally.”
Some players – including linebackers Alec Ogletree and Chase Vasser – gathered around Richt to celebrate after Georgia’s defense held Florida to one first down and a field goal in the second half.
Others players, including cornerback Brandon Boykin, ran for a leap into the seats behind the end zone at EverBank Field with the Bulldogs fans to join their party after a game in which Georgia rallied from down 17-3 in the second quarter.
Junior receiver Tavarres King said the win means “everything. We’re back”
Quarterback Aaron Murray said players “feel a lot of relief” for Richt.
“We feel great as a team right now. We’ve said all year we love coach Richt. All this nonsense about him leaving, we don’t want to hear that. … The pressure’s off his back, the pressure’s off our back.”
Georgia rode a pair of fourth-down touchdown catches of 20 yards from Michael Bennett and 14 from King to tie the game and went ahead on a 4-yard touchdown run from Richard Samuel after Isaiah Crowell was out with a shin contusion.
“This is what, six straight?” Boykin said of Georgia’s current winning streak. “Not only that, but against a team we haven’t beat in a very long time ... since I’ve been here. To do it my senior year is just an awesome feeling.”
Georgia got the win after its defense rose up in the second half to overcome shaky special-teams play.
The Bulldogs (6-2, 5-1 SEC) remained tied for first in the SEC East with South Carolina by matching their win total for all of last season and became bowl-eligible for the 15th year in a row.
Florida (4-4, 2-4) has lost four in a row for the first time since 1988, despite getting the return of quarterback John Brantley from a right ankle injury. This win came against first-year Gators coach Will Muschamp, the former Georgia safety.
“I don’t know what we’ve accomplished yet really and truly, but we have found a way to win,” Richt said. “This game, especially, was by far our toughest test since the South Carolina game and a lot of things we were battling just besides the Gators, maybe some history and some old demons you know that maybe we exorcised at least for one day.”
Georgia limited Florida to minus-19 yards rushing and got six sacks.