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Florida 44, Georgia 28: Gators’ brilliant run leaves them atop SEC East

Georgia sprinted from the gates in Jacksonville. But the Gators would swamp them before halftime arrived.

Florida vs Georgia Photo by Adler Garfield/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

One play into Florida’s Saturday meeting with Georgia, Georgia led 7-0.

Two drives and just 3:16 of game clock gone, the Bulldogs were up 14-0.

But like other early Georgia this week, it wouldn’t last.

Florida put together a historic offensive showing, embarking on a 38-7 burst before halftime that staked the Gators to all the lead they would need in a 44-28 victory.

Kyle Trask, of course, orchestrated the offensive. After missing his first three throws, he connected on 20 of his final 23 in the first half, throwing for four touchdowns and more than 350 yards before intermission and keying a string of six straight possessions on which the Gators scored points.

Trask would finish with 474 passing yards — a record for a Florida quarterback in a regular-season contest — and threw for four touchdowns for the fifth straight game, extending his own school and SEC records in that regard.

He had plenty of help from receivers — and running backs — who made plays in the passing game all day. Kyle Pitts and Trevon Grimes each skied over defenders for spectacular catches; Grimes’s scored a touchdown, while Pitts saved his scoring play for a reception with a Georgia defender glued to his uniform.

Malik Davis would be second for the Gators in receptions (five) and tops in receiving yards (100), however, leading a three-headed terror that also included Nay’Quan Wright (three catches, 71 yards) and Dameon Pierce (two catches, 41 yards) and tore up Georgia in the flats and underneath. A steady diet of wheel routes also fed tight ends Kemore Gamble (three catches, 51 yards, one touchdown) and Keon Zipperer (one catch, 39 yards) even after Pitts left the game following a brutal helmet-to-helmet shot from Georgia safety Lewis Cine.

Florida’s 38 points were its most in any half against Georgia — ever.

And Florida’s defense was generally stout for the final 57 minutes of play. After Zamir White’s 75-yard run off tackle to open the scoring and another quick drive that ended with a Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint touchdown — and an apparent serious leg injury or Rosemy-Jacksaint, another of the day’s too-many injuries — Georgia would score just once more on offense, on a drive midway through the fourth quarter that merely cut the Gators’ lead to 13.

Georgia had shots to keep up in the shootout, with its defense punching back on occasion — Trask’s lone interception on the day was returned for six by Eric Stokes, and he threw what should have been another pick-six late in the fourth quarter only to see it dropped.

But the Dawgs’ fatal problem was that Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis were taking most of those shots, and neither quarterback showed anything resembling consistent accuracy.

Bennett completed just five of 16 passes for 78 yards, a touchdown, and a pick that would lead to his benching early in the second half. Bennett left in the first half after what appeared to be a shoulder injury, but he was ineffective on either side of it, and would be replaced for good in the third quarter by Mathis, who proceeded to make clear why he is Georgia’s backup. Mathis completed just four of 13 throws for 34 yards, chucking two awful picks against one good touchdown, and also dealt poorly with the pressure created mostly by Florida’s front four, taking sacks that deadened drives.

The game remained nervy until late in the fourth period, with Florida scoring just one field goal in the second half prior to Mathis heaving up a terrible throw on a fourth and long with minutes remaining that Shawn Davis camped under and then returned, handing the Gators great field position. Mathis’s two picks, which came on Georgia’s last two possessions, were the final blows that ended the Dawgs’ three-game winning streak in the rivalry.

The Gators didn’t break when down 14 early on, instead unleashing a wave that would leave the Bulldogs blubbering and blue. And their path to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game? Its highest hurdle’s been cleared.