JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 29: Georgia Bulldog players celebrate with fans following a win over the Florida Gators 24-20 at EverBank Field on October 29, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
As the dust settles by the St. John's River, it's time to take a deep breath and ponder what the Dawgs' sixth win of 2011 means.
Before we order the commemorative T-shirts and start picking out appropriately soaring music for the YouTube highlight reels, let's all take a moment to catch our breath and consider what Saturday's Georgia-Florida game wasn't.
For starters, it wasn't a terribly well-played game, at least by either offense. The second half was particularly excruciating: Aaron Murray and Florida's John Brantley combined to complete only seven of 31 passes for 90 yards, and they completed one pass apiece in the fourth quarter. Florida ran 24 offensive plays after halftime and averaged exactly four feet with each of them. Once the Bulldogs had scored their go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Mark Richt and Mike Bobo seemed to sense -- just as they had against teams like Ole Miss and Mississippi State -- that Florida didn't have the horses to mount a comeback, and thus throttled back to a conservative, grind-it-out offense very similar to the ones that had driven Georgia fans crazy in both of those games.
Let's face it -- if this had been 4-4 Vanderbilt or Mississippi State against whom we'd just notched this four-point victory, we'd all be complaining about a lack of killer instinct and wondering if it wasn't time to dial the "hot seat" talk back up.
And as much as we all might like to think otherwise, this game alone doesn't signal a sea change in the Cocktail Party fortunes that have been so unkind to the Dawgs over the last 20-plus years. We've been down that road before -- 1997 was supposed to mark the end of Spurrier's reign of terror, 2004 was supposed to be a sign that the Florida dynasty was crumbling at long last, and neither one of those things ended up happening. All Georgia did Saturday was show that, if there was indeed some "mental block" afflicting them in Jacksonville, they'd at least gotten over it enough to beat a Gator team of equal or lesser value.
Yet that in its own way is significant, because it didn't happen in 2002 or 2005, when a win over Florida arguably could've propelled the Dawgs to a national-title shot. Didn't happen in 1998 or 2008, when the Dawgs could've (and should've) capitalized off momentum from big wins the previous years. The "mental block" talk about Georgia's Cocktail Party history may be somewhat overblown, but like any cliché there's at least a little truth to it, and if this win helped the Dawgs to wipe that from their collective psyche, then so much the better.
Thing is, we won't know whether that's the case until next year. If Georgia loses in Jacksonville on Oct. 27, 2012, then maybe we're back at square one and have to find a way to gin this intensity up all over again. But maybe now's a good time to talk about something this game did signal: For the first time in 22 years, and only the second time in the last three decades, Georgia beat a first-year Florida head coach.
Spurrier came in and immediately set about making the Dawgs pay for what they'd done to him as a player, and when he left, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer notched improbable upsets as rookie coaches to heighten Bulldog Nation's feelings of existential doom. Will Muschamp, though, failed to claim what Gator Nation had taken as its birthright in his first showdown in Jacksonville. And now, for the first time in a long time, Florida doesn't get to take victory in Jacksonville for granted; they don't get to assume that the new guy will maintain a stranglehold on the Dawgs.
Like I said, Georgia doesn't get to assume anything either, at least not for the long term. To some extent, though, SEC football has always been a bit of a zero-sum game; if one program gets good, it probably came at least in part at another program's expense. So while this was kind of an ugly win, and we certainly don't get to call Georgia an elite team, there's some reassurance to be had that we're closer to that goal (at the moment) than Florida or Tennessee are.
Being top dog in the SEC East isn't what it used to be, but it sure beats being one of the underlings, and if this win in Jacksonville has moved us away from the latter and placed us closer to the former, then that's worth a cocktail or two. Drink responsibly, Dawg fans, but it'd be a shame not to pour yourself at least one.