3:30 PM ET, October 28, 2006
Everbank Field, JACKSONVILLE, FL
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida coach Urban Meyer was the first to toast his defense -- an appropriate gesture even if this wasn't supposed to be a cocktail party anymore.
The Gators forced three fumbles and intercepted two passes, helping ninth-ranked Florida beat Georgia 21-14 on Saturday and continue its recent dominance in the rivalry.
"Thank God for great defense," Meyer said.
Florida now has won eight of nine and 15 of the last 17 in the series that's been known for decades as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. School and city officials believe the nickname conjures up images of drunkenness -- not what they want to promote, especially after the deaths of two Florida students the past two years.
They urged television networks to stop using the moniker altogether.
Whatever you want to call it, it's been all Gators lately.
With the latest victory, Florida remained atop the Southeastern Conference East Division and moved a step closer to returning to the conference title game for the first time since 2000. The Gators (7-1, 5-1) need to beat Vanderbilt and South Carolina to make it happen.
The Bulldogs (6-3, 3-3) lost for the third time in four games and essentially dropped out of the division race.
The Bulldogs managed just 64 yards rushing, and freshman Matthew Stafford completed 13 of 33 passes for 151 yards and was sacked four times in his fourth start.
"They are a great defensive unit that sometimes get overshadowed because of their offense," Stafford said.
Florida's defense made several key plays:
-- Derrick Harvey stripped the ball from Kregg Lumpkin on the first play of the second half, and Ray McDonald returned it 9 yards for a score and a 21-0 lead.
-- Jarvis Moss forced another fumble on the ensuing possession, knocking the ball from Stafford's hands. Florida had a chance to extend the lead, but place-kicker Chris Hetland missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt.
-- Georgia cut the lead to 21-7 on Stafford's 13-yard run and was driving again. But Reggie Lewis picked off Stafford's deep pass down the sideline.
-- The defense stepped up one more time -- maybe when Florida needed it most. The Bulldogs turned Tim Tebow's fumble into an 8-yard touchdown run by Lumpkin, making it 21-14 with 8:17 to play, then forced the Gators to punt. But linebacker Brandon Siler sacked Stafford on the first play of what Georgia hoped would be a game-tying drive.
Florida forced a punt, then ran out the final 3:50.
"They missed a field goal and we got some points on the board, but just couldn't get it done," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Some things happened that hurt us. ... It comes down to this: We turned it over five times again and you just won't beat anyone doing that."
Georgia's other turnover came on special teams.
After the Bulldogs made it 21-7 following Leak's first interception in four games in the series, Georgia fans were on their feet and players were in a frenzy on the sideline. They continued to celebrate when Florida was forced to punt. But the punt hit the back of Kelin Johnson's leg -- the team's third fumble -- and the Gators recovered.
Florida reclaimed the momentum, but just briefly. Hetland missed a 42-yarder wide left -- his sixth miss in seven tries this season -- keeping Georgia in a game Florida had pretty much controlled from the start.
Meyer said afterward that Hetland will be benched in favor of Eric Nappy for next week's game at Vandy.
The defense bailed out Hetland (two misses), Leak (interception) and Tebow (fumble) while allowing just 215 yards.
"When we see the offense struggling, we know we have to put it in another gear," cornerback Ryan Smith said. "Our confidence is increasing with each game, but we knew from the start we had a good defense."
Leak finished 14-of-28 for 163 yards, and Tebow ran six times for 36 yards. But the offense had just three plays that gained more than 20 yards against the Bulldogs, whose defense struggled mightily in losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
"In six years I don't think I've ever felt this way about an offense," Meyer said. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we're going to start immediately. In fact, we're going to start tonight to get this thing right.
"We've got a lot of issues right now, and we've got to deal with those issues."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Florida was able to run out the clock after forcing Georgia to punt with a little over three minutes left in the game.
Gameball goes to... Andre Caldwell. The Gators receiver caught eight passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. Also recorded the game's first score on a 12-yard run.
Stat of the game... 4. The Gators' defense forced five Bulldog turnovers.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||4-14||3-13|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||1-1|
|TD||9:11||Florida rush for a touchdown. Chris Hetland extra point GOOD.|
Drive info: 9 plays, 62 yds in 5:49
|TD||9:43||Florida pass complete for a touchdown. Chris Hetland extra point GOOD.|
Drive info: 1 plays, 40 yds in 0:27
|TD||14:28||Georgia fumbled. Chris Hetland extra point GOOD.|
Drive info: 1 plays, 8 yds in 0:00
|TD||4:40||Georgia rush for a touchdown. Andy Bailey extra point GOOD.|
Drive info: 5 plays, 53 yds in 2:17
|TD||8:17||Georgia rush for a touchdown. Andy Bailey extra point GOOD.|
Drive info: 3 plays, 14 yds in 0:54