ATLANTA — When it comes to Georgia’s consecutive wins against Florida, Mark Richt is more focused on the implications for this year’s race in the Southeastern Conference than any historical significance.
In fact, the coach seemed surprised Sunday when asked what it meant that his Bulldogs had beaten the Gators in back-to-back years for the first time since 1988-89.
“I just don’t look at it that way,” Richt said after a long pause. “I just look at it as we play them once a year. One shot a year to get them. I always think about when we get to that game it has the type of meaning that it did have. You hope you’re still in the race when you get to that game because it is deep enough into the season that you want it to be meaningful in the Eastern Division race for your team.”
Saturday’s 17-9 win over the Gators certainly was an important victory for Georgia, which can win the division and earn its second consecutive trip to the conference championship game if it beats Mississippi and Auburn the next two weeks.
The Bulldogs play host to Ole Miss on Saturday.
Richt said his players also are focused on a return to the SEC championship game in Atlanta. He said linebacker Jarvis Jones’ thoughts turned to Ole Miss soon after he had 13 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries against Florida.
“Jarvis Jones said this victory really doesn’t mean anything unless we keep winning,” Richt said. “Of course he’s talking about the race to the Eastern Division. We know we’ve got to win. We know we’ve got to continue to play like we did this last game to really give us our best chance.”
Georgia (7-1, 5-1) moved up five spots Sunday to No. 7 in the AP Top 25.
The Bulldogs trailed South Carolina and Florida in the Eastern Division after their 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks on Oct. 6. South Carolina’s losses to Louisiana State University and Florida gave Georgia renewed hope.
Led by Jones, Georgia’s defense forced six turnovers as the Bulldogs overcame three interceptions by Aaron Murray and 14 penalties for 132 yards. The defense responded to a challenge from senior safety Shawn Williams, who said the unit was playing soft.
“When I watched the film, it’s a lot of guys playing physical, a lot of guys playing hard, playing really hard,” Richt said. “You could see the whole group hustling, gang-tackling. There were some great individual plays and they were kind of feeding off each other. It was exciting to watch as it happened and it was actually fun to watch the film.”
Georgia held the Gators without a touchdown for the first time since 1988 – Vince Dooley’s final season as coach.
The Bulldogs dominated the rivalry under Dooley, but Saturday’s win was only Georgia’s fifth in the past 23 meetings. That’s why Georgia fans celebrated the back-to-back victories, even if Richt maintained his tunnel vision.
“It’s always going to be meaningful because it’s a great rivalry game and it does mean a lot to our players and coaches and fan base, but I really don’t think much about streaks and all that,” he said.
Richt savored the win with his players on the field long after the game.
“It was awesome,” Murray said. “Everyone was going crazy. I felt like we were out there for 20 or 30 minutes. There isn’t a better feeling.”
The focus then shifted to Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2), which has won two in a row.
“We haven’t won the East yet,” Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo. “We still have two more games left.”