Outside of the tailgate area, there wasn't much that was pretty to look at in the 2012 edition of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party — but somehow that just made Georgia's victory that much sweeter.
Usually, in the wake of a big underdog win by Georgia's football team, this is about the time when you'd be reading something from me along the lines of "See, this is what the Dawgs have the capability to do at their very best" and "Mark Richt should be exhorting his players to play like this every week." No offense, but I don't think I quite want to see this kind of performance every week. It was a sloppy game (nine turnovers between the two penalties). not to mention a chippy one (24 total penalties for 227 yards); when I arrived home at the beach house in Ponte Vedra where we'd been staying the week, the opinions ranged from "an uuuugly game" (my girlfriend) to "this abortion of a football game" (EDSBS' own Spencer Hall, though even he had to laugh as he said it). Paradoxically, the effort that beat a third-ranked Florida team at a neutral site on Saturday might not be enough to get past unranked Ole Miss in Athens this weekend.
Here's the thing, though: Good teams can win convincingly when everything's going their way. Great teams find ways to win even when the circumstances are challenging and everything feels like it could completely go to hell at any given moment. And if you're going to ding Mark Richt for seeming to only win the first kind of game — which I have — then you also have to give him credit for winning the second, no matter how aesthetically challenged it was. Georgia just went into Jacksonville, a house of horrors for more than two decades running, and knocked off a third-ranked Florida squad to claim its first back-to-back Cocktail Party victories since the 1980s. If you can't be proud of that, what can you be proud of?
Not everything about the game was a comedy of errors, of course. Rather, linebacker Jarvis Jones provided a comedy of terrors, adding 13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles to a Cocktail Party stat line that should enshrine him in the Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame before he even graduates. He and Shawn Williams, run through the ringer all week for his comments publicly calling out his teammates for playing soft, provided the emotional motor for the kind of defensive effort Georgia fans had been waiting to see all year long. The Dawgs didn't do anything fancy or unexpected; they simply recognized that Florida presented little to no downfield passing threat, crammed eight men in the box and dared Jeff Driskel to win the game with his arm. There were brief flashes where Driskel looked like he might do it, too, finding frequent opportunities on the outside that were just long enough to move the chains, but every time he brought the Gators in position to take the lead, a Bulldog was there to force a timely turnover.
So . . . the offense. Nobody's going to call that one of Georgia's better efforts, even against a team that came into the game with Florida's snarling reputation. Aaron Murray resembled the Aaron Murray of the headache-inducing fourth quarter of last year's game, pressing passes into places they shouldn't have gone and missing more than a few easy ones that he probably would've made against just about any other opponent. But give him and the rest of the offense credit for overcoming adversity to make the plays they needed to make. After struggling early, the running game came alive with a 23-yard burst from Todd Gurley — just enough to remind the Gators they couldn't load up against the pass. The offensive line kept Aaron Murray's jersey clean, and when the Dawgs needed a big play from him, he shrugged off his earlier struggles and gave them one.
That 45-yard TD pass to Malcolm Mitchell certainly wasn't the game-changer that Lindsay Scott's 92-yard catch-and-run was on this same field in 1980, nor was it a "drought-breaker" the way Theron Sapp's touchdown run against Georgia Tech was back in 1957. But in the long run, it may possess a significance that ranks it up there with both of those plays in Georgia lore. Having notched back-to-back wins over the Gators for the first time since the 1988-89 seasons, Bulldog fans can now say with confidence that the "Gator curse" — to the extent that there every really was one anywhere except in the Georgia team's minds — has been exorcised. Georgia certainly isn't destined to win every single game in Jacksonville from here on out, but nor will they be hanging their heads and simply waiting for the Gators to issue another spirit-crushing loss.
And this time the Bulldogs didn't do it by taking advantage of a weakened, rebuilding Florida team, either. They took on a team the pollsters had seen fit to rank third in the country, with a fearsome defense and a running game that had left numerous teams trampled in its dust, and looked them square in the eye and beat them. The game was ugly, and it was certainly no runaway, but I don't recall anyone in Gator Country wearing any sheepish grins after they blew away South Carolina using only 183 total yards of offense, so there's no reason for Georgia fans to feel any shame about how this game was won, either.
The Dawgs appear to have reclaimed a lost season and are on track to win back-to-back SEC East titles for the first time since 2002-03, and they did it by winning an ugly, challenging game that would've caused past Georgia teams — hell, maybe this same Georgia team from a few weeks ago — to throw up their hands and submit. Whether their competitive fire was stoked by Shawn Williams, the coaches or a combination of the two, it was enough to prove the Dawgs could still win a big game against a hated arch-rival.
And Bulldog Nation gets to go forth treating this game like Uga himself: He may be ugly, but nobody else gets to say that — only we get to say that. And we'll love him just the same.