JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There was pushing and shoving, momentum shifts, strange calls and costly penalties.
Typical Florida-Georgia, really. Even the winner was somewhat predictable.
Todd Gurley scored twice in his first game in more than a month, helping Georgia beat rival Florida 23-20 for the third consecutive year Saturday. It’s the Bulldogs’ first three-game winning streak in the series since 1989.
Gurley played a huge role in the latest one.
The sophomore, who missed the last three games because of a sprained left ankle, totaled 187 yards in his return. He found the end zone on a 5-yard run and a 73-yard reception — both in the first quarter.
“He helped a little bit, didn’t he?” Georgia coach Mark Richt joked. “He played so well those first couple of series.”
Gurley did so much that he felt queasy. He sat on the bench and stared at the ground before slowly walking to the locker room for treatment.
“We settled him down and he was fine after that,” Richt said.
The Bulldogs scored on their first four possessions, taking a 20-0 lead that looked like it would be enough against one of the Southeastern Conference’s most anemic offenses. Georgia gained 259 yards in the first quarter and looked like it would roll.
But the Gators rallied, taking advantage of a fumble, a safety and some questionable play calls to seize momentum in a weird, wacky and an unbelievably chippy game.
Florida cut it to 23-20 early in the fourth, putting Georgia on its heels after a failed fourth-down run followed by a huge defensive penalty. But the Gators faltered down the stretch.
“We dug ourselves too big of a hole,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “We’ll rebound and we’ll be fine.”
The victory kept Georgia (5-3, 4-2 SEC) in contention in the SEC’s Eastern Division.
The Gators (4-4, 3-3) have their second three-game losing streak in Muschamp’s three years, raising speculation about his future in Gainesville.
Muschamp fell to 0-7 in the series. He was 0-4 as a Georgia player between 1991 and 1994 and now he’s 0-3 at Florida. Possibly making things worse for Muschamp, he screamed back at a fan as he left the field.
“I don’t spend two seconds thinking about that,” said Muschamp, who is now 4-5 against rivals Georgia, Tennessee, Florida State and Miami. “I just move on. We have to coach our football team and control the things you can control, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Georgia looked nothing like the same team that lost consecutive games to Missouri and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs scored on the game’s opening possession and then shocked Florida when Aaron Murray found Gurley over the middle for a 73-yard catch and run. The Bulldogs piled on from there, making it 23-3 with a 32-yard field goal just before halftime.
Florida appeared down and out.
But Georgia helped the Gators get back in it.
Arthur Lynch dropped what he thought was a screen pass near the sideline. Officials ruled it a lateral and a fumble. Lynch didn’t realize the call and left the ball on the ground. Florida’s Leon Orr scooped it up and returned it to the 14-yard line. Mack Brown scored two plays later, cutting Georgia’s lead to 23-10.
Loucheiz Purifoy sacked Murray in the end zone two series later, making it 23-12. Tyler Murphy, playing with a sprained right throwing shoulder, second on a 14-yard TD scamper on the ensuing possession. Murphy hooked up with Clay Burton for the 2-point conversion — and it was a different game.
Georgia tried to reclaim the momentum, but Gurley failed to move the chains on a fourth-and-1 play. Florida’s Neiron Ball was flagged for removing his helmet on the stop, drawing a 15-yard penalty, and then the offense stumbled as usual.
Still, Georgia gave Florida more life by having 12 men on the field on a fourth-and-2 play. Nonetheless, Florida floundered again.
The Bulldogs ran out the clock with a final drive that lasted more than 8 minutes, a series that included a third-down penalty on Florida’s Darious Cummings.
Gurley, who carried 17 times for 100 yards, had several key runs on the drive.
“Gurley means everything to us,” said Murray, who completed 16 of 25 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown. “His energy, when he makes those runs and catches, and runs people over is so important to us. He’s a very vocal guy getting people pumped up, getting guys going, it was huge tonight. It was great to get him back. His personality in the huddle, his play-making ability, he just made some huge, huge plays for us in this game.”