ATHENS, Ga. — There was plenty of build-up to the game all week.
A fire was lit underneath the Georgia football team.
The defense responded with its best showing of the season with the opponent held without a touchdown.
Georgia’s 17-9 victory against Florida held true to the same script the Bulldogs had in their 48-3 destruction of Vanderbilt on Sept. 22.
The Dogs hope to build off this performance better than they did in that next game against Tennessee, a 51-44 win in which they gave up a season-high 478 total yards.
“We haven’t had two back-to-back games where the defense played well,” linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “That’s something we’re going to strive to do now.”
The motivation against Florida was safety Shawn Williams and others outside the program labeling the defense as soft.
Against Vanderbilt, it was memories of last year’s chippy game in Nashville, Tenn., and the postgame confrontation between Commodores coach James Franklin and Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Georgia coach Mark Richt joked on his radio show Monday that maybe somebody this week needs to call his players a bunch of sissies as the Bulldogs prepare for Saturday’s game against Ole Miss at Sanford Stadium.
On Tuesday, he embraced the question about whether Georgia’s defense might be back to the form of last year or just had one strong game.
“You ought to write a story about that, maybe make everybody mad,” Richt said. “That would be nice. I’m serious. I don’t know, I don’t know what they are going to do this week. I hope they play like they did this past week. I hope we continue to get after it with that kind of emotion and heartbeat.”
Grantham told the defensive players that the way they played against Florida is how they should be playing every game, freshman outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said.
“We’ve got to keep finishing out the season exactly like this,” Jenkins said.
There are no excuses not to keep it going.
Georgia’s defense has been at full strength back from player suspension for four games now.
Players have had ample time now to settle into roles for the season’s home stretch.
“We showed what we could do as a defense when we’re all together,” nose guard John Jenkins said. “Now we just need to maintain that momentum and I don’t see why it would be hard. We know what’s at stake.”
Senior linebacker/end Cornelius Washington spoke to the team before the Florida game in the locker room at EverBank Field.
“The gist of it was that it was time for us to take responsibility for our season and where we wanted to be at the end of the year,” Washington said.
Georgia forced six turnovers after getting only 10 in the first seven games of the season.
“It reminded me a lot of how they came out in the Auburn game last year kind of with guns blazing with our defense,” tight end Arthur Lynch. “
Grantham dialed up plenty of blitzes against Florida.
“We just started letting go of the bullets,” Herrera said. “We stopped holding back. We really haven’t been running that many blitzes.”
If the defense is indeed back to the form expected, Georgia could be a force to be reckoned with all the way to the Georgia Dome.
“As long as we take care of the ball on the opposite side,” Lynch said, “I think we have a chance to do some pretty good things in the next four weeks and hopefully five weeks.”
Beat Ole Miss and then an Auburn team still winless in the SEC and the Bulldogs will return to the SEC title game.
“Playing these bigger games in November now that mean more, I think that will be easier (to be motivated),” linebacker Christian Robinson said. “When you have something to play for, it makes it easier to win those games.”
Building off the defensive momentum gained against Florida will help.
“I think everybody knows the work and the effort we’ve got to put it in to keep playing like that,” Herrera said. “If we drop any game, the whole Florida game was pointless.”