Florida's complete game brings a swift end to Georgia's shenanigans
Georgia tries another motivational tactic against Florida -- with similar results
After enduring recent criticism, Gators took their frustration out on the Bulldogs
Florida might be duplicating its dominant stretch during the 2008 title season
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Georgia made a fashion statement Saturday. Florida just made a statement.
The Bulldogs warmed up in their traditional red helmets and silver britches. Then they went into the locker room, where black pants and black helmets awaited. The barking half of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party crowd roared as the GothDawgs took the field, but recent history suggests the Georgia fans would have been better off walking out of the stadium at that moment to resume imbibing. Remember, Georgia staged a much-ballyhooed Blackout last year to commemorate a visit from Alabama. The Crimson Tide celebrated the occasion by rolling to a 31-point lead and burying Georgia's national title hopes.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' uniform gambit was just duh. First, in an age of increased concussion awareness, it appears coaches took the irresponsible step of allowing their players to wear helmets they hadn't practiced in all week. Beyond that, if Georgia's coaches spent more than a second in the past two weeks considering what uniforms the Bulldogs should wear, then they owe the university a refund on their wages. That is, of course, unless they concocted this little fashion show during their university-mandated furlough days during their off week between Vanderbilt and Florida.
"After the Alabama game, we felt like we should shelve [the black uniforms] for a while," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "When you go down 14-0, you feel like maybe nothing was accomplished."
It's probably not fair to criticize Richt's fashion sense. After all, if the Bulldogs had pulled off the upset, we would have praised him as the finest clothier since Giorgio Armani. But unfortunately, Richt's team is 4-4. If things get any worse, Richt may be forced to sacrifice defensive coordinator Willie Martinez if Richt wants to release his fall collection next year.
Tebow made his own fashion choice Saturday. On his eye black, he cited Philipians, chapter four, verses six and seven. The passage opens with a four-word command: "Do not be anxious."
There were anxious times in Gainesville this week. Tebow and star linebacker Brandon Spikes had words after last week's 29-19 win at Mississippi State. Addazio's playcalling was in the crosshairs. In two previous wins, the top-ranked Gators had revealed flaws no one thought they had. "There was a lot of turmoil this past week," Tebow said. "A lot of people were talking about stuff, and it was frustrating."
So the Gators took out their frustrations on the Bulldogs. After Georgia slashed Florida's lead to 14-10 in the second quarter, Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis boomed a 56-yard field goal that might have been good from 65. On Florida's next possession, Tebow took a draw up the middle 23 yards for a score that broke Georgia great Herschel Walker's SEC record for rushing touchdowns. He kept the ball, because he still can't fathom his name in the same sentence as Walker's-- much less above Walker's name in a record book. "It's Herschel Walker," Tebow said. "How am I going to be in the same league as Herschel Walker? I still don't understand it."
Early in the third, Tebow increased his career rushing touchdown total to 51 with a 5-yard score. That touchdown came after linebacker A.J. Jones swatted down a Joe Cox pass and caught his own deflection on the Georgia 19. For the third time in four years, the Gators had forced a turnover on Georgia's first drive of the second half. In 2006, defensive tackle Ray McDonald scooped a fumble and scored. Last year, cornerback Joe Haden set up a Tebow touchdown by picking off Matthew Stafford and returning the ball 88 yards to the Georgia 1-yard line. Florida linebackers racked up four interceptions Saturday. Jones had two. Spikes picked one and returned it for a touchdown. Senior Ryan Stamper picked another. Three of the four interceptions produced touchdowns.
If Florida's offense has indeed found a groove to match the dominance of its defense, then the Gators could be on the verge of a late-season run to rival the dominant stretch they played en route to the 2008 BCS title. Last year, Florida needed a loss to Ole Miss to awaken the beast within. Spikes hopes the close calls against Arkansas and Mississippi State were all it took this season. "This team, I think, is going to be a special team," Spikes said. "It's just a feeling you get."
On Thursday, Meyer brought Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan to speak to the football team's leaders. Donovan has stood in Meyer's shoes. He has coached a defending national champ loaded for a repeat. Donovan dispensed some of what he learned shepherding the 2006-07 group that included Al Horford and Joakim Noah to a second consecutive title. The theme of Donovan's speech? Stick together.
So now that the Gators have played a complete game in all three phases, Meyer should be able to relax. Shouldn't he? "I wish I was comfortable," he said. "I'm not. I've got to learn to be comfortable. But I say this, and I mean it from the deepest part of my heart, I love these guys. ... Are they perfect? I never said that. Not many are. But I tell you what, they come together. They bond together, and they play really hard."
Meyer knows he doesn't need to pull any uniform shenanigans to motivate his players. The Gators don't care about their clothes. They're more concerned with accessories -- especially the ones worn on the fingers. That's why Meyer said he "didn't notice" Georgia's new duds. It's also why Stamper put out his own best-dressed list Saturday night.
"I thought we looked great in all blue," he said.
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