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Florida 44, Georgia 28: Taking A Ride On The Grand Trunk Railway

Florida vs Georgia Photo by Matt Stamey/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Sometimes you bring a knife to a gun fight.

And sometimes you take the train while your opponent soars overhead on the Concorde.

Georgia and Kirby Smart somehow did both this evening as the Florida Gator offense and Kyle Trask were just too hot to stop, chomping the ‘Dawgs 44-28.

It really was not that close. Georgia played arguably its most potent quarter of football this year, scoring on its first play of the game, then its second possession of the game. Eric Stokes returned an interception for a touchdown in the second for good measure. Somehow despite those 21 points the Classic City Canines still trailed 38-21 at the half.

Such was the buzzsaw of the Florida offense. The Red and Black came in with precious little room for error on that side of the ball due to a plethora of injuries. Once the Gators came out and executed beautifully it was all over. A Bulldog defense at full strength might have kept this one closer. A Bulldog offense with Monty Rice covering Gator receivers downfield on a gimpy foot and freshman Major Burns where Richard LeCounte should have been just didn’t have a shot.

Trask finished the game 30 of 43 for 474 yards, the most allowed by a Kirby Smart defense, eclipsing the old mark of 417 set by Alabama three weeks ago. The Bulldog cornerbacks looked overmatched against a Gator passing game that made strategic use of pick plays and won several jump balls that the Dawgs’ taller defensive backs have traditionally done well against. In some ways it was reminiscent of the 2004 Georgia/LSU game in which David Greene could have thrown balls blindfolded over his shoulder and had Fred Gibson come down in the end zone with them. It’s just hard to stop a quarterback who’s dropping dimes if you can’t get to him.

Trask did an excellent job getting the ball out in a hurry, and as much as it pains me, he looks like a Heisman-caliber quarterback. He was helped substantially by the Gator tailbacks, who caught 212 yards of those passes. It was a good game plan well-executed.

On the other sideline, things are less rosy. Let’s be clear, Stetson Bennett was clearly playing most of this game with a bum throwing shoulder, and up until that happened he looked as good as he has since the Tennessee game. Bennett was 2 of 3 for 45 yards and a touchdown before a Gator rusher came free and planted one on his shoulder that would have sent Dan Mullen to midfield to fight the officials. After that he was 3 of 13 for 33 yards and an interception.

Much of what follows depends on Bennett’s shoulder. But there will likely be calls for Kirby Smart to now bench Stetson Bennett and start D’wan Mathis or perhaps JT Daniel the rest of the way. It’s a fair suggestion. Injury or no, for the third game in a row Todd Monken’s offense schemed Cortez Hankton’s receivers open. Bennett couldn’t hit them. With him at the helm Georgia is likely to beat teams not capable of putting 35 on the board and guaranteed to lose to teams that can. With a return trip to Atlanta looking unlikely, now seems like a good time to figure out what the rest of the QB room can do, starting with D’wan Mathis.

Mathis emphasized a couple of things we frankly already knew in this game. For one, he has arm talent that Stetson Bennett does not now nor will he ever possess. Mathis can wing it as well or better than anyone else we have on campus.

The other thing he hammered home on this day is that when he wings it no one knows exactly where it’s going. Mathis finished 4 of 13 for 34 yards and tossed 2 interceptions. Some of those incompletions (the bomb to Demetris Roberson for example) were arguably catchable balls. Many however were terribly long throws thrown terribly. It’s possible that with more live-fire action Mathis’s touch on those throws improves. But it’s also possible that more throws just mean more interceptions.

It’s safe to say at this point that JT Daniel actually suffered a leg amputation at some point this offseason and we’re just trying to keep him comfortable while his custom bionic appendage adjusts to his body. There’s really no other reason for him having not seen the field at this point. He can’t possibly be this bad if he has two functioning legs.

Those who joined the Fourth Quarter Open Thread probably noticed the weird Downton Abbey reference that kicked it off. It was not entirely random. I was thinking at the time about the BBC drama and the British aristocrat whose family the show followed, Lord Grantham. Grantham spent much of the show with one foot in the past being dragged forward into the 20th century. In one instance, he invested most of his family’s fortune in Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway, believing it to be a surefire investment that would safeguard their country estate for generations. He was wrong, it went bankrupt, and they very nearly lost everything.

Georgia, to my mind, very much invested the Grand Trunk Railway at the quarterback position this offseason. Jamie Newman had all the earmarks of a successful investment at the position. Had Jamie Newman stuck with it I think we’d be completely different on offense. Instead he decided three weeks before kickoff to hang it up, after taking the majority of first team reps up to that point. We’re still trying to recover, and may not until 2021. That doesn’t mean Kirby Smart mismanaged the position. He brought in a guy who’ll likely be an early round NFL draft pick, a four star true freshman, and a five star transfer who’d started in the PAC-12. Not for lack of effort, Kirby Smart is penniless at the QB position. That will change, but not tonight.

Coming in we knew this was likely to be the best shot Dan Mullen has had in his career to beat Kirby Smart. He took advantage of it. That doesn’t do anything to change my sense that a Gator team missing Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney next season will likely take a major step back. But on this night the Gators had all the pieces they needed and those pieces played arguably the best football any Mullen-coached team has. Hats off to them. We’ll get ‘em next time. Until later . . .

Go ‘Dawgs!!!