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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Georgia and Florida can’t agree exactly how many times they’ve squared off in their annual football rivalry game. It’s either 99 or 100, but what isn’t in dispute is the number of games the Bulldogs have gone up against the Gators as the top-ranked team.
Before Saturday, the only time was 1942 when Georgia blasted the Gators 75-0.
This one wasn’t quite as lopsided, but Georgia and its dominant defense looked the part as the No. 1 team as the Bulldogs smothered the Gators in a 34-7 runaway win.
Georgia blew the game open in the second quarter when its defense created three turnovers en route to the rout at TIAA Bank Field
Kirby Smart won his 60th game as Georgia coach and improved to 4-2 against the Gators as his team ran its 2021 record to 8-0, 6-0 in the SEC.
Florida’s tumble continues with its third loss in the last four games. The Gators are 2-4 in the SEC and 4-4 overall.
Here are some takeaways from the contest:
Bulldogs nearly end Gators' NCAA scoring streak
Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning was two years old the last time Florida was shut out. That was way back on Oct. 29, 1988 against Auburn.
Lanning's defense nearly ended that NCAA record streak at 417 games.
Lewis Cine's pass interference gave Florida the ball at the 2-yard line and quarterback Emory Jones scored on a run from that distance with 2:49 to go. The Bulldogs nearly shut out the Gators for the first time in the rivalry since a 42-0 win in 1982.
Florida got as far as the Georgia 6 earlier in the third quarter but Jace Christmann was wide left on a 21-yard field goal, his second miss of the day.
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The Gators went 89 yards in 11 plays for their scoring drive to add to their totals and actually outgained Georgia by the slimmest of margins, 355-354. The Gators ended up with the most total yards by any team vs. Georgia this season. The Bulldogs entered averaging just 208.4 yards per game. Florida entered ninth in the nation in total offense at 501.7.
Georgia held the Gators to 4.1 rushing yards per game. Florida entered with an SEC-best 6.33 rushing yards per carry.
Bulldogs blow game open behind Nolan Smith's turnovers
Georgia was sitting on just a 3-0 lead when Stetson Bennett threw an interception to give the Gators the ball back with 3:11 to go in the first half.
That’s when Nolan Smith took over to change the complexion of the game with a pair of momentum-changing plays as the Bulldogs poured on 17 points in a span of 2 minutes and 9 seconds to go to the locker room up 24-0.
Smith often gets overshadowed on a defense with impactful players including defensive linemen Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter and Travon Walker.
Smith was among a bevy of Bulldogs who bottled up quarterback Anthony Richardson after an 8-yard run.
Smith, the junior outside linebacker, stripped the ball from the 6-foot-4, 236-pound redshirt freshman and got his hands on the ball. He ran into the end zone but the play was called down at the 11. James Cook took it from there on the next play for an 11-yard score.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 30, 2021
On the second play of the next drive, Walker deflected a pass on a crossing route that Smith snagged and Georgia had the ball at the Gators’ 36. Again, it took just one play for Georgia to strike when Bennett hit Kearis Jackson in the left side of the end zone for a 17-0 lead.
It was the first interception for Smith in 30 games as a Bulldog for the junior.
The former five-star prospect from Savannah now has two caused fumbles this season.
Takeaways change momentum of game
Nakobe Dean jumped an Anthony Richardson sideline pass and was off to the races for a 50-yard touchdown with 7 seconds left in the first half.
The junior inside linebacker’s first college touchdown on his second interception of the season was the fourth touchdown by the Georgia defense this season.
That’s one fewer touchdown than the defense has given up all season in eight games.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 30, 2021
Georgia’s defense had done nearly everything well this season but forcing turnovers wasn’t one of those things.
It had just one in its previous three games and ranked tied for 70th nationally with 10 turnovers.
Florida's offense had three turnovers in 10 plays, continuing a troubling trend for the Gators.
They entered 96th in turnovers lost with 13 on 12 interceptions and 1 lost fumble.
Dean had a chance for another interception on a fourth-down pass at the 25 that he dove for. The Bulldogs had to settle for an incompletion that turned the ball over on downs.
Beasts of the East
It became clear that it wasn’t a matter of if but when Georgia would clinch the SEC East.
The Bulldogs have a chance for that to happen as early as Saturday night if Kentucky loses to Mississippi State.
Otherwise, Georgia can do it as early as next Saturday when it will be a huge favorite against Missouri at home or if Kentucky loses at home to Tennessee.
Florida won the SEC East last season, ending a run of three straight division titles for Georgia.
The Gators have now lost seven of their last nine games to Power Five conference teams.
Georgia seems to be a sure bet to be No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff rankings that are released Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on a show on ESPN.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Georgia Bulldogs completely stifle Florida Gators to win rivalry game