Commentary

Gators send many messages in revenge rout of Georgia

Originally Published: November 1, 2008
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The No. 8 Florida Gators led No. 6 Georgia by 39 points with less than one minute to play Saturday night. Florida's backup quarterback and fourth-string tailback were in the game. So was most of Georgia's backup defense.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Phil CoaleUrban Meyer was very deliberate in savoring every second of Florida's win.

Instead of running out the clock, like most college football coaches normally do in those situations, Florida's Urban Meyer called timeout. After USC transfer Emmanuel Moody took a handoff and ran for a 10-yard gain, Meyer called another timeout.

"Moody was running the ball really hard, and I wanted to get him a few more carries," Meyer told reporters afterward. "I felt he'd earned that right."

Yeah, right, Coach.

After watching the entire Georgia team dance in the end zone after scoring its first touchdown in the 2007 edition of this rivalry, Meyer wanted to remind Bulldogs coach Mark Richt and the rest of college football what his team is capable of doing. So Meyer made sure the Bulldogs endured every miserable second of their 49-10 loss to Florida in front of a sold-out crowd of 84,649 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Saturday.

The Gators beat Georgia for the 16th time in 19 meetings, and the Bulldogs failed in their attempt to beat their rivals in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1988-89. Georgia didn't score its first touchdown until backup quarterback Joe Cox threw a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Aron White with 3:09 left to play. That score helped the Bulldogs avoid their worst loss in the storied series' 86-game history.

And the Gators wanted to make sure the Dawgs remembered how losing felt. So Meyer made sure the game lasted just a little bit longer. "We just wanted to rub it in," Gators receiver Percy Harvin said.

And beware Alabama, Penn State and Texas Tech because Florida doesn't seem ready to slow down anytime soon. Since losing to unranked Ole Miss 31-30 on Sept. 27, the Gators have routed their past four SEC opponents. They've beaten Arkansas, defending national champion LSU, Kentucky and Georgia by an average score of 50-10.

But the Gators wanted to beat the Bulldogs even more badly -- because of what Georgia did on this field last season, and because the win puts Florida squarely in the driver's seat in the SEC East. If the Gators win one of their final two SEC games (at Vanderbilt next week and against South Carolina on Nov. 15), they would win the East and play in the Dec. 6 SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. No. 2 Alabama would probably be Florida's opponent.

"This was a game we had to have," Meyer said. "Someone said, 'Was this motivation for our players?' Yeah, it was. Losing doesn't sit well with our players, and it was the only rivalry game we lost last year."

Being labeled a soft team apparently didn't sit well with the Gators, either. Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno ran for a career-high 188 yards and three touchdowns in the 42-30 victory last season. Each time Florida's players met with strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti this summer, they were required to do 42 reps on each of their weight stations -- for each of the points Georgia scored. And they had to complete 188 push-ups and sit-ups during each workout -- one for each of Moreno's yards.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes and Knowshon Moreno
AP Photo/Stephen MortonFlorida LB Brandon Spikes and his teammates knew where Knowshon Moreno was all day Saturday.

On Georgia's second play from scrimmage Saturday, linebacker Brandon Spikes walloped Moreno for no gain. "I think the tone was set early when Spikes hit Moreno," Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. "The whole sideline erupted. Last year, he gashed us. Right then, you knew the statement was made that we weren't going to let them run the football."

Moreno, who had averaged 145.3 yards in his past three games, was held to only 65 yards on 17 carries against the Gators. "We wanted to make them one-dimensional," Strong said. "We knew [Matthew] Stafford can throw the football and had good enough receivers to do it. But we could not let them run the football."

The Gators didn't let Georgia's running game get going, and Stafford couldn't carry the Bulldogs on his back. Stafford completed only 18 of 33 passes for 265 yards with no touchdowns. Florida intercepted him three times -- cornerback Joe Haden returned one interception 88 yards to the UGA 1 to set up the Gators' third touchdown -- and sacked him twice.

"I think they kind of got tired of being called 'soft,'" Meyer said. "Everybody wants to talk about last year, last year, last year. What happened last year was we didn't tackle well and got beat. I don't think you could have called a defense 'soft' more times than we did."

Florida's offense also looked a little soft against Georgia last season. Quarterback Tim Tebow, who would become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, was sacked six times. Tebow played against the Bulldogs with a badly bruised non-throwing shoulder.

On Saturday, Tebow ran 12 times for 39 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 154 yards with two touchdowns and was sacked only once. "It doesn't get any sweeter than this," Tebow said. "We didn't like to talk about [last year]. We just went out there and proved we're a different team."

And a team that looks a lot like the 2006 Florida squad, which won a BCS national championship in Meyer's second season in Gainesville. The 2006 Gators won their first six games, before losing 27-17 at Auburn. After that loss, much of the college football world focused on Ohio State and Michigan as the best teams in the country.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Kim Klement/US PresswireTim Tebow accounted for five touchdowns in Florida's revenge romp over Georgia.

But Florida won its last five regular-season games and then beat Arkansas 38-28 in the SEC championship game. Florida was picked ahead of Michigan to play the Buckeyes in the BCS national championship game, and blasted Ohio State 41-14 to win the school's second football national title.

The Gators will need help to duplicate the feat this season. No. 1 Texas or No. 3 Penn State would probably have to lose, and the Gators would have to beat No. 2 Alabama in the SEC championship game in order to reach the BCS title game.

Meyer isn't quite ready to look so far ahead. "These kids want to get to Atlanta," Meyer said. "That's the program's goal every year."

And now, after handing Georgia its worst loss during the Richt era, the Gators don't have to look in the past again, either. "Everybody knew what happened last year," receiver Louis Murphy said. "We didn't need anything to motivate us. We all knew what happened."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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