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2012 Dawg Sports Football Season Review: The Cocktail Party. (Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the defense.)

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Let's get one thing straight: I hate Florida. It's not just a simple dislike, a harmonious discord, or even a deep, latent enmity. I hate Florida with the fire of a thousand suns being fueled by the fire of an additional thousand suns. In a world where my choices were to cheer for Florida or go blind, I'd start learning Braille. I. HATE. FLORIDA. Now, let's proceed...

Jarvis Jones, noted consumer of Gators
Jarvis Jones, noted consumer of Gators
Sam Greenwood

This is the eighth entry in the Dawg Sports 2012 football season review. Our crew has taken you through the Georgia Bulldogs' first 7 games, in which we compiled a 6-1 record that was only punctuated by one truly impressive win, and since it was against Vanderbilt, no one was going to give us credit for it. (And still, no one gives us credit for pummelling, 48-3, a SEC team that finished the season 9-4, ranked in the top 25, and won their bowl game against an ACC team. Hell, LSU didn't do all 3 of those things. But, as usual, I digress.)

Mostly due to the fact that we began the season so high in the polls, the Dawgs rolled into Jacksonville ranked #10, ready to face a Florida Gators team that had reeled off seven straight victories and was ranked #2 in the country.

We never need motivation in Jacksonville. It's Jacksonville. It's Georgia-Florida. It's the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, where about 200,000 Georgia and Florida fans will converge on an 85,000-seat stadium, determined to party harder than they ever will again all year. One of our other rivalries is called "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." Well, Georgia-Florida is Old-Fashioned, and it's chock full of hate, but this ain't clean, and it ain't good. Much like the town in which the game is contested, this game is a nasty, smelly mess, full of people on both sides of the fight desperate to destroy each other at any cost. It's an epic battle, fought (mostly) on neutral territory, that has been ongoing for the last 108 years. We even have our own dedicated Hate Week for it here at Dawg Sports.

All the same, though, our defense was prodded prior to this game with a sharp pointy stick provided by one of our own players, and a senior leader, no less: Shawn Williams. After the Kentucky game, the senior safety spoke out to the media, saying, "We've been playing too soft as a defense... That goes for the D-line, linebackers, corners, safeties, everybody." Then, he went on to criticize the lack of playing time Alec Ogletree and Amarlo Hererra had been getting. And, really, you could hardly blame him for being so frustrated. After being touted as a shut-down unit that we would be relying upon to win games, they had given up 20 or more points in 6 of our first 7 games of the year.

Even though his outburst was defensible, however, the key when a senior leader publicly calls out his teammates and coaches is how they react in response. And going into the Florida game in Jacksonville, no one knew for sure if Williams' comment had caused his teammates to be extra motivated or extra divided into camps supporting and opposing him. Oh, sure, everyone was saying the right things... but what was really happening in that locker room? And how would it translate onto the field?

Well, we know how it turned out. I probably don't even need to give you a detailed recap of the actual game, so I won't. Georgia scored first, never trailed the Sunshine State Saurians, and rode a massive wave of crushing defense to a 17-9 win. Our defense absolutely dominated the day. We made the Gators turn the ball over 6 times, which was more turnovers than they'd had in their first 7 games combined, and Kyle Weblog was suitably exuberant. No team would score more than 20 points on our defense again during the regular season. Our defense finally found their groove.

Some Orange-and-Blue partisans (and windbag ESPN personalities who share a last name with the fifth month of the year) would like you to believe that someone on the swampy side of the field gave the game away with all of those turnovers. Well, let me tell you something, you cold-blooded, scaly, reptile lovers... just watch the following 3:00+ highlight reel and tell me which of the 9 combined turnovers were not explicitly caused by the defense. (Hint: There's only one, and it was an Aaron Murray non-hurried pass to a wide open Gator defensive back.)

So, at the end of the day, a Georgia defense held a Florida offense without a touchdown for the first time since 1988, which was Vince Dooley's last year patrolling the sidelines. And the good guys left Jacksonville with a winning streak in the series for the first time since 1989. It was a good day.

The full video of the game is here, if you'd like to watch the whole thing:

I don't care who you are, and I don't care how much you hate Florida in relation to Auburn, Tech, Cocky, or even Clemson. This game felt good when it was over, and established an excellent precedent. We won a close game against the Gators for the second year in a row, when we previously always seemed to let the close ones slip between our fingers. Our head coach is now 3-3 in the last 6 games in Jacksonville, while Florida's head coach is 0-6 all-time at the Cocktail Party (0-4 as a player and 0-2 as a head coach).

There's no question of whether or not this thing is turning around for the Dawgs in Jacksonville. The coin has turned. It's now the Gators' coach who has to make bold proclamations in the offseason about winning in Jacksonville. It's now the Gators who had an SEC Eastern Division title and national championship opportunity taken from them by the banks of the St. John's River. It's now the Gators who have found ways to p*** the game away in the closing moments two years in a row.

Jacksonville may not be within the state boundaries of Georgia, but for at least the next 5 months, it's Bulldog Country. And the way things are looking, we may just want to re-think that whole "bitching about playing in Florida" thing.

Go Dawgs!