JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kirby Smart is pretty sure Georgia coach Vince Dooley looked down on the No. 1 Bulldogs on Saturday and probably enjoyed the first half — but not so much the second — in a 42-20 victory over the rival Florida Gators.
Dooley, who led the Bulldogs to a national championship in 1980, died Friday at his home in Athens, Georgia. He was 90.
“At the Dooleys’ home in Athens, I know they’re together,” Smart said. “It meant a lot to us to win the game for them. Everything that Vince meant to our university and such an ambassador for our program and really all of college football. … He meant so much to us and an honor.” it was special for him and their family. It was hard to make it happen.’
After taking a 28-3 halftime lead, a flurry of Georgia mistakes allowed the Gators to cut the deficit to just eight points after Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson threw a 78-yard touchdown to Xzavier Henderson with 3:31 left in the third quarter. .
A Georgia personal foul set up Florida’s first touchdown of the second half, and then Bulldogs tailback Kenny McIntosh lost a fumble on the first play of the next drive. Gators defensive back Trey Dean III recovered the ball at Georgia’s 27 and Florida ended up kicking a field goal to make it 28-13.
On the Bulldogs’ next possession, quarterback Stetson Bennett fumbled a pass that was intercepted by Florida’s Amari Burney. Richardson connected with Henderson three plays later after the Bulldogs broke coverage on the sophomore.
Georgia scored touchdowns on each of its next two possessions to end the threat and beat Florida for the fifth time in the last six games.
“I’m sure Coach Dooley enjoyed it; I’m sure he was watching,” Bennett said. “You know, sometimes you take what they give you, and sometimes you give them what they take.”
Smart knows his team will need to clean things up before next week’s game against No. 3 Tennessee at Sanford Stadium. This game will go a long way toward deciding which team wins the SEC East and will be the first best-of-five game played at Sanford Stadium since the No. 4 Bulldogs lost 13-7 to Bo Jackson and No. 3 Auburn in 1983, ending a 23-game SEC winning streak, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“Every win, any win, exudes confidence,” Smart said. “You criticize wins, I’m great with wins. When you beat Florida in the SEC, any win is hard to get. They’re tough, they’re physical, they’re hard fought. I’m proud.” from them and the way our guys played.”
Smart, a former Georgia linebacker, said he did not learn of Dooley’s death until the team landed in Jacksonville on Friday. Smart said he received a text from Dooley’s son, Derek, the former Tennessee head coach.
“We took off and we didn’t realize anything and then the phones started ringing and the texts started coming in,” Smart said. “We knew it was kind of coming. I visited him last week and sat down. He was in the training room and we talked for a while, and of course I didn’t know it was going to happen.” last time, but that’s probably my fondest memory.”
Smart said Dooley was in the suite with his family during last year’s SEC and CFP National Championship in which Georgia beat Alabama 33-18 to win its first national title in 41 years.
“My kids got close to him and it’s funny because my kids had no idea,” Smart said. “They were like, ‘Who’s the old coach? Who’s the old guy?’ Now they know the history and what he stood for and what his family did for this university. We have a lot of respect for him.”