Commentary

Moreno, Stafford key to Bulldogs turning Jacksonville tide

Originally Published: October 27, 2007
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When you've lost 15 of your last 17 games to one of your biggest rivals, you're apt to do almost anything to stop the hemorrhaging.

That includes stepping completely out of character.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, who's to mild-mannered what Bob Knight is to temperamental, suggested his Bulldogs go out and get a penalty for excessive celebration after their first touchdown Saturday. In reality, he didn't suggest it. He ordered it.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia players
AP Photo/Phil CoaleThe Bulldogs stormed the field after their first TD.

"Creating a little passion," is the way Richt described it.

That and just another Saturday of havoc in the wacky and totally schizophrenic Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division race.

Does anybody want to win this thing?

The Bulldogs, riding the kind of emotion they hadn't played with all season, jumped right back into the East fray with a 42-30 trampling of Florida. It started with just about the entire Georgia team racing onto the field and having their own little party in the end zone following their first touchdown -- drawing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties -- and ended with the Gators wondering what hit them.

Richt, who'd lost five of the last six games in this series, didn't hold back on his team the last two weeks. They hadn't played since a last-second win over Vanderbilt on Oct. 13 and were embarrassed by Tennessee the week before.

His stinging message: You're playing with no emotion. You're boring. You're downright dull. This ain't Georgia football.

"The definition of insanity, if you keep doing what you've been doing, is that you keep getting what you've been getting," Richt explained.

Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes called the Bulldogs' end zone celebration "classless" following Knowshon Moreno's 1-yard touchdown, which capped eight straight carries by the redshirt freshman tailback and was a precursor to a career day. He finished with 33 carries for a career-high 188 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't really care what they think," Georgia sophomore cornerback Asher Allen said. "We were going to set the tone. We were going to win this game. I can tell you, we were not going to lose from the beginning. Now, it's on us to play that way for the rest of the season."

Richt admitted that the Georgia coaches game-planned energy as much as they did X's and O's this week.

[+] EnlargeKnowshon Moreno
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesKnowshon Moreno rushed for 188 yards and three TDs against the Gators.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo felt like some of his guys had played as if they were scared to make a play this season, which made Richt's challenge to his team all the more critical. There was also very little talk of the past struggles against the Gators the last two weeks.

"Coach [Richt] did a great job this week of letting the guys know, 'We're Georgia. This isn't last year. This isn't the last 17 years,'" Bobo said. "This was our football team this year and we were coming down here expecting to win.

"These guys believed him, and they believed him when they got down here and got the job done."

For all the talk about Florida's dominance in this rivalry, Georgia's younger players came in almost na´ve to the misery that has plagued the Bulldogs the last two decades when they've ventured to Jacksonville.

"That's the thing," said Georgia sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw three touchdown passes. "Everybody talks about the history and how bad it's been for us. To tell you the truth, I was talking to Knowshon about it, and we didn't know too much about it. It didn't mean anything to us.

"We knew it was another football game and a big one. We knew they were a good team. But to us, it was another SEC opponent in a fun place to play and we were going to come out and give it our best shot."

Moreno also seemed ho-hum about the Gators' stranglehold in this series.

"The thing that's so big to us is getting back into the SEC race," Moreno said. "We wanted to play loose and have fun, and that's what we did.

"The SEC is becoming like the NFL. Anybody can get beat, and anybody can win. It's just crazy."

[+] EnlargeMatt Stafford
AP Photo/Stephen MortonMatthew Stafford helped Georgia walk off as winners for only the third time in the last 18 meetings against Florida.

At this rate, it's not out of the realm to think that a three-loss team may end up representing the East in the SEC championship game. The only team that controls its own destiny is Tennessee, which edged South Carolina in overtime on Saturday and beat Georgia on Oct. 6.

But heading to November, nobody has been mathematically eliminated.

For Florida, its chances may rest with how banged up quarterback Tim Tebow is. His right (non-throwing) shoulder was already bruised coming into today's game, but the Bulldogs sacked him six times. He'd been sacked only five times all season prior to the game.

With his shoulder hurting, it was obvious that he wasn't going to run as much against the Bulldogs, and they teed off and came after him.

"We knew he'd gotten hurt," Richt said. "We didn't know how hurt he was. You never know how an injury can mend over a week's time. But as the game went on, we knew it was pretty evident they were not going to run him as much as normal, and you just had to assume his shoulder was bothering him.

"I don't think it was going to change our plan. We didn't want to sit there like a bunch of ducks and let them shoot us. We wanted to pressure him enough times where we could keep him off balance."

Tebow, who finished with minus-15 yards on 13 carries, did his best to fight back tears while talking to reporters afterward.

"Everybody was heartbroken after all three of our losses, but I think this one hurts just as much or more," Tebow said. "We thought we'd bounced back from the other [losses]."

Nope, this time it was Georgia's turn.

"I know didn't nobody give us a chance, and that's what makes it so sweet," Georgia linebacker Marcus Washington said. "We're back in it."

Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com.

Chris Low | email

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