Georgia loses more key players to injury but holds its ground until last drive.
By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published November 2, 2003
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Georgia's Michael Cooper can't get into the end zone in the fourth quarter.
JACKSONVILLE - Georgia defensive end David Pollack looked around the huddle on the Bulldogs' last defensive series and couldn't believe his eyes.
He saw unstained jerseys.
"We had guys in there that hadn't even played a snap all year, or even in their career," Pollack said. "It was ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it."
Blame the injuries.
Georgia was a banged-up team when it arrived and left in worse shape. The Bulldogs regularly had players leave the game, most notably defensive tackle Gerald Anderson (knee) and defensive back Sean Jones (shoulder), who didn't return.
"It was crazy," defensive back Bruce Thornton said. "You try not to make excuses because deep in your heart we know we couldn't get the job done. But it was very frustrating. We just didn't finish the job."
Georgia entered as the national leader in yards allowed, and the defense was strong for most of the game. Florida had 99 yards at the half and 247 after three quarters. The Gators were held to three-and-out on their next-to-last series.
So despite the injuries, there was excitement on the Bulldogs sideline when Florida took over with 3:49 left and the scored tied at 13.
"We have a lot of confidence in them," Georgia quarterback David Greene said. "The defense was the only thing that kept us in the game."
Then the unit lost it.
From its 17, Florida went 66 yards on 10 plays to set up Matt Leach's winning kick. "The defense played valiantly ... except for that last drive," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said.
The Gators moved the ball with surprising ease on the clinching drive, in the air and on the ground.
On second and 9 from the Florida 18, Gators quarterback Chris Leak passed 15 yards to wide receiver Carlos Perez. He then connected with open tight end Ben Troupe for another 21 to the Georgia 46. Leak hit Kelvin Kight for 8 yards two plays later and tailback DeShawn Wynn rushed for 14 yards to the 22.
Florida faced one third down on its final drive, and that came as the Gators were positioning for Leach's kick.
"They spread the field well," Pollack said. "They did some good things. We were tired, but weren't too tired to perform. We just made some mental errors. We had some mishaps. It's stuff we've got to correct.
"We thought we were going to stop them and have a chance to win the game, but it didn't happen. We had some key miscues here and there and it cost us."
Pollack said at one point the defense was missing seven players to injury who were starters when the season began.
"It's so frustrating because you know you've got so much talent but you can't get it on the field. It's not that you don't trust your teammates, but you've been in battles (with the injured players) ... you trust them. You know what they're going to do."
After the game, thousands of stunned Georgia fans sat in the seats and stared at the field. Before beginning his postgame news conference, Richt looked blankly toward the ground for a few seconds.
"You've got to give Florida a lot of credit," Richt said. "They did it when they had to. We had gotten some momentum back in our favor but didn't finish, and they got it in range to make the field goal."