JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Kirby Smart heard all the second-guessing, about his vanilla power football mentality, but the only message that mattered to his Georgia football team was in the locker room, and the Bulldogs believed in each other.
Georgia maintained control of the SEC East Division, beating Florida 24-17 at TIAA Bank Field behind a bruising run game, an explosive receiver and a suffocating defense.
"We know that we control how we play, we control what we do by how we play and the outside noise is just that," Smart said. "Our kids grinded and worked hard, so I'm proud of them. Played really physical, played really hard."
Georgia (7-1 4-1 SEC) was really efficient, converting 12 of 18 third downs with Jake Fromm completing 20 of 30 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, and Lawrence Cager hauling in 7 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Fromm was 10-of-12 passing for 119 yards and a TD on third downs, converting 9 of 12 times he passed on third down. Cager had three of those third-down catches, in addition to a 52-yard TD, in the fourth quarter that broke Florida's back.
Smart credited Fromm for handling the moment after many had cast doubt after his three-interception performance in a 20-17 overtime loss to South Carolina on Oct. 12.
"(Jake) a nd I are wired in very similar ways, we're both very competitive, we both want to win, there's a lot of same hard-wiring there," said Smart, who had lunch with Fromm in the days leading up to the game. "Every time his back's against the wall, he just comes out swinging."
Smart reiterated that the Georgia run game, which he insisted be a cornerstone of the offense each year, is vital to success.
"If you don't run the ball in this league, pass rushers will chew you up," Smart said. "When they see pass every play, they'll feast. It's like sharks in the water. They'll attack you. You've got to keep them honest. You've got to wear them down.
"I know y'all don't believe in it, and y'all think it's boring and y'all hate it and it's not explosive, I get it, okay. But in this league, you've got to have the threat of that in order to sustain."
Smart is just as insistent on stopping the run, and the Bulldogs certainly did that, holding the Gators to 21 yards rushing on 19 attempts.
"We wanted to suffocate the run and make them one-dimensional," Smart said. "They're going to make plays on you, now. They've got as good a group of receivers as anybody. I'm telling you, there's four guys that are going to be playing in the NFL, and I'm including the tight end.
"But they've got good wideouts and that was my concern coming into the game. We knew that we may have to give something up to get something back. But we felt like we had to play for the pass and you had to stifle the run in order to make them one-dimensional."
It was a Smart game plan, and it was successful.
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