For the past two weeks, improving Georgia’s pass rush, or as Kirby Smart likes to say, “affecting the quarterback,” was an area of emphasis on the Bulldogs’ defense.
Entering Saturday, Georgia’s last sack had come three weeks and two games ago when defensive lineman Julian Rochester brought down Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano with a little over five minutes left in the game.
Though Smart has said he looks at the pass rush as more than a team’s number of sacks, the Bulldogs weren’t having success affecting the quarterback, either. In Georgia’s 42-7 win over Florida on Saturday, that wasn’t the case.
Eight players combined for five sacks as Georgia increased its season sacks total from 10 to 15. And Smart thought Georgia could have had more. The Bulldogs also collected eight tackles for a loss and often flushed Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks from the pocket.
“We let the guys loose,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said.
Georgia’s first sack came on Florida’s first drive. On third-and-10, outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who led Georgia in tackles with nine, collected his fourth sack of the season and first since mid-September against Samford.
“I think it let everybody know we're here to play,” Carter said. “We're here to play fast and we're going to be doing it all night.”
Georgia went through a brief sack-less drought within the game, but near the end of the second quarter, with Florida on its own 32-yard line facing third down, defensive lineman Tyler Clark and outside linebacker Walter Grant combined for a sack.
“That’s not like a magical, we put a bunch of stuff in a jar and did it,” Smart said of his team's pass rush. “We worked hard on it and tried to improve on it.”
As Florida started its second drive of the third quarter, it trailed 28-0. Georgia running back Sony Michel had just scored on a 45-yard touchdown run. The Gators’ possession began with outside linebacker Davin Bellamy and Rochester combining for a 1-yard sack.
Two players later, cornerback Tyrique McGhee and safety J.R. Reed blitzed off the right side of the offensive line. McGhee grabbed Franks and knocked the ball out of his hand as Reed swarmed. Both players were credited with half a sack.
Reed picked up the loose ball and stepped into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. Georgia took a 35-0 lead. In the end zone, surrounded by his teammates, Reed put his hands up to his face in what he called an “eat greedy celebration.” Once Reed reached the Georgia sideline, Georgia’s golden, spiked, celebratory shoulder pads were placed over Reed’s pads. Teammates lifted him on their shoulders, and Reed extended his arms as if to say, “Are you not entertained?”
“You can call it whatever you want,” Reed said. “I guess you can call it a savage moment.”
Georgia’s fifth and final sack of the game happened with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. On third-and-19 from Florida’s 41-yard line, Rochester and D’Andre Walker sacked Franks again. By the end of the game, Franks' blue jersey and white pants had spots of green stains from the field's grass.
“Last week and this week at practice, they wanted us to go get after him,” Bellamy said. “You saw that tonight.”