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Gators defense shuts down 'Dawgs after shaky start

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Georgia receiver Jermaine Burton tries to outrun Florida defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. on Saturday at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

The first three minutes and change may not have gone according to plan, but the Gators defense dialed up a dominant display after the initial disaster. 

Georgia went up 14-0 and accrued 136 yards on offense within the first 3:16 of play, much to the dismay of Florida’s personnel on defense.

“The first two touchdowns were off of just busted plays, and we're the type of team that shouldn't be giving up any plays. So it was just added motivation to keep going,” Gators defensive back Kaiir Elam said. I'm just happy nobody put their heads down. Everybody was motivated to get back out there and just play the game of football.”

Fortunately for Florida, the action remaining was more along the lines of a defensive clinic. 

The Gators held Georgia to just 141 yards the rest of the game, as UF outscored the opposition by 30 points in what ended in a 44-28 win Saturday in Jacksonville. Florida’s secondary, which had yet to pick off a pass through four games this season, registered a trio of interceptions in the second half against. 

The first was by Elam, who spurred UGA on National Signing Day despite it hiring former UF defensive backs coach Charlton Warren for the same position, during Elam’s official visit, too. 

Although one interception was certainly cause for celebration for the underclassmen, Elam was one of several Gators adamant after the game they could’ve played even better against their SEC Eastern division rival. 

“It felt amazing. I should have caught the second one. I actually should have had three,” Elam said. “So I just gotta go back to the drawing board and watch film on Arkansas tonight."

Elam said Florida’s game-plan throughout the night was to take away the run, forcing Georgia’s quarterbacks to beat them through the air, where Florida’s secondary intended to reap the rewards.

Zamir White’s 75-yard sprint aside, UF’s defense did just that. Georgia recorded 90 rushing yards on 28 attempts for an average of just 3.21 yards-per-carry following White’s game-opening score. 

Florida defensive end Brenton Cox Jr., the former five-star prospect who transferred to the program from Georgia prior to last season, said the victory validated the beliefs of the defense coming into kick-off. 

“Personally, it means a lot, just to overcome a team that I left and, basically just to win a game that I already knew I was going to win,” Cox said. “t’s a mental thing for me. I’m lost for words, I’m just too excited.”

Cox made sure to make an impact, too, as he and Florida safety Shawn Davis, making his return to the field after missing the previous contest against Missouri, led the Gators in solo tackles against UGA with three apiece. 

Based on his experience with both programs, Cox said the game was decided by desire more than anything else — a statement that should answer further questions regarding Florida’s aspirations the rest of the way. 

“I can honestly say one team wanted it more than the other in this situation. Both teams have good players. Both teams have good coaches. Both teams got everything. Pretty much everything equaled out,” Cox said. “It pretty much came down to who wanted it more. As you can see, Florida did.”