JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida coach Will Muschamp reached over his shoulder and said ”let me lift this thing off my back.”
He probably should have used both hands.
After all, this was a big win and an even bigger relief for Muschamp and the Gators.
Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor combined for 389 yards rushing and four touchdowns and Florida upset ninth-ranked Georgia 38-20 Saturday, ending a three-game losing streak in the series and quite possibly saving Muschamp’s job.
”Extremely happy and proud for them and happy for our fans to be able to enjoy this,” Muschamp said. ”I know how frustrating it is for our fans. I hear it. I get their emails. I’m just really happy for everyone in the organization to know we won in dominating fashion.”
Jones ran 25 times for a career-high 197 yards and two touchdowns. Taylor, whose NFL father, Fred, has his name emblazoned on a wall inside EverBank Field, carried 25 times for a career-best 192 yards and two scores.
The dynamic duo became the first Florida teammates to top the century mark on the ground since Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey against Kentucky in 2011.
”We needed it bad. We came into this game with a head full of steam, knowing they beat us three times in a row and we needed a win for (Muschamp), too,” Jones said. ”We want to go to a bowl game, so we really needed this win.”
Jones and Taylor carried Florida (4-3, 3-3 SEC) to a much-needed victory in the series against the Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2) and in the Southeastern Conference.
Muschamp may have been the big winner. The fourth-year coach’s future was clearly in jeopardy with Florida having lost 10 of its previous 13 games, including a 42-13 drubbing to Missouri two weeks ago. Muschamp also had been 0-7 in this series, going 0-4 as a Georgia defensive back in the 1990s and losing his first three games as Florida’s coach.
”I’m happy to win it,” Muschamp said. ”It feels a lot better than the other side. I don’t think they’re going induct me into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame. I’m on the ballot now. I’m just really happy.”
Muschamp said he spent the closing minutes thinking about his father, Larry, who died in May.
”Well, you can imagine how tough it is,” Muschamp said, fighting back tears. ”That’s part of it.”
The Gators talked all week about winning for Muschamp and for themselves. They also predicted they were going to run the ball ”until the wheels come off.”
The Gators delivered with their best overall performance since the season opener.
Florida finished with 418 yards rushing, the program’s most since gaining 466 against New Mexico in 1989 when NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith was the team’s star.
The total Saturday included a 21-yard scoring run by former walk-on Michael McNeely on a fake field goal that kicked off a dominant second quarter. McNeely, who holds a part-time job bagging groceries near campus every Sunday, took the fourth-and-9 snap and went untouched around the right side to tie the game at 7.
The call was reminiscent of Georgia coach Mark Richt’s fourth-down gambles in 2011, when he seemingly saved his job by beating Florida 24-20 in Jacksonville.
Richt said Florida ”physically whipped us” this time around.
”They did a great job of creating momentum with the fake field goal for a touchdown,” he said. ”They grabbed the momentum and just kind of took off from there.”
The difference was Florida’s decision to bench turnover-prone quarterback Jeff Driskel and commit to the ground game, even against the league’s second-ranked run defense.
It turned out to be the perfect call, especially with winds gusting to 40 mph.
Jones and Taylor hurt the Bulldogs inside and out, finding some holes and creating others.
Freshman quarterback Treon Harris didn’t do anything special aside from playing with better ball security than Driskel. He completed 3 of 6 passes for 27 yards. He also ran 37 yards. He fumbled once and had a shotgun snap sail over his head.
But with Jones and Taylor, Harris pretty much just had to stay out the way.
They two backs really got going in the second quarter, with Taylor delivering a career-long 44-yard run that set up his 2-yard plunge and Jones scoring on a 44-yard scamper down the left sideline.
Jones added a 1-yard TD run on the third play of the fourth quarter, putting Florida ahead 31-7.
That sent Georgia fans scrambling for the exits.
The Bulldogs were looking for their first four-game winning streak in the series since 1983.
Georgia led 7-0 early, looking as if it would move a step closer to winning the SEC Eastern Division. Instead, the Bulldogs kept the division a muddled mess.
Nick Chubb, filling in for suspended running back Todd Gurley, ran 21 times for 156 yards and a touchdown. He also caught five passes for 59 yards and a score, and had a costly fumble.
Hutson Mason completed 26 of 42 passes for 319 yards, with a touchdown that Chubb caught after it bounced off a teammate’s hands. Mason was sacked three times.
Florida’s defense was solid, but took a backseat to Jones and Taylor.
”We knew we were going to pound them and pound them and were going to keep pounding them,” Taylor said. ”We weren’t going to be denied.”