JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kirby Smart is pretty sure late Georgia coach Vince Dooley was looking 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 guided the Bulldogs to a national championship in 1980, died on Friday at his home in Athens, Georgia. He was 90.
“To the Dooleys back home in Athens, I know they are together,” Smart said. “It meant a lot for us to win that game for them. All that Vince has meant to our university and such an ambassador of our program and really all of college football. … He has meant so much to us and in honor of him and their family, it was special. It was a tough time for that to happen.”
After taking a 28-3 lead at the half, a multitude of Georgia errors allowed the Gators to cut the deficit to only 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 helped 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 underthrew a pass, which was intercepted by Florida’s Amari Burney. Richardson connected with Henderson three plays later, after the Bulldogs busted coverage in the secondary.
Georgia scored touchdowns on each of its next two possessions to end the threat and beat Florida for the fifth time in the past six meetings.
“I’m sure Coach Dooley enjoyed that; I’m sure he was watching,” Bennett said. “You know, sometimes you take what they give you and sometimes you give them what they’re going to take.”
Smart knows his team will have to clean things up before next week’s showdown against No. 3 Tennessee at Sanford Stadium. That game will go a long way in deciding which team will win the SEC East, and it will be the first top-five matchup 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 win streak, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“Any win, any win exudes confidence,” Smart said. “You guys criticize the wins, I am great with the wins. In the SEC, when you beat Florida, any win, they are hard to come by. They are tough, they are physical, they are hard-fought. I am proud of them and the way our guys played.”
Smart, a former Georgia defensive back, said he didn’t learn of Dooley’s death until the team landed in Jacksonville on Friday. Smart said he received a text from Dooley’s son, Derek, a former Tennessee head coach.
“We took off and were not aware of anything and then the phones started dinging and the text messages started coming through,” Smart said. “We knew that it was kind of imminent. I got to visit with him a little last week and sat down. He was in the training room and we got to talk for a while, and of course I did not know that it would be the last time, but that is probably my fondest memory.”
Smart said Dooley was in a suite with his family during last year’s SEC championship game and CFP National Championship, in which Georgia defeated Alabama 33-18 to win its first national title in 41 years.
“My kids have gotten to be around him, and it’s funny because my kids had no idea,” Smart said. “They were like, ‘Who is this old coach? Who is this old guy?’ Now they know the history and what all he stood for and what his family did for this university. Got a lot of respect for him.”
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