tampabay.com

New gators, new life

Punting for field position? An offense relying on defense? Whoever that team was, it ruins the Bulldogs' perfect year.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published October 30, 2005


JACKSONVILLE - With 3:25 left and the game on the line, Urban Meyer put on his headset and told his coaches he was putting the outcome in the hands of his defense.

With Florida holding a four-point lead, the offensive guru chose to punt on fourth down from the Georgia 28 instead of trying a 45-yard field goal. In his mind, it was better to get good field position and force Georgia's inexperienced backup quarterback to win the game.

The strategy paid off.

Georgia's last drive ended with Joe Tereshinski's incomplete pass as he was pressured by Jeremy Mincey, giving the Gators a 14-10 win in front of 84,501 at Alltel Stadium.

"That was a great win," Meyer said. "Having been exposed to some terrific environments, that was as good an environment for a college football game that I've ever seen. It was an honor to experience it against a tremendous team. That was a tough win. That was two tough football teams going against each other."

Meyer put the game in the hands of a defense that has allowed seven points in the fourth quarter of the past four games.

"He came on the headset and said, "Guys, I'm going to punt it down here.' That was so we can make them drive it 99 yards," co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. "We didn't think they could drive it 99 yards. That last drive, we said defensively, we're going to put it in our hands." Actually, the Bulldogs needed only 80 yards. Eric Wilbur's first punt put the ball at the Georgia 8, but a penalty for an illegal shift forced Wilbur to punt again - a touchback.

Georgia took over with 3:10 left. But the unit that allowed LSU's winning touchdown in the fourth quarter Oct.15, held on.

"They haven't had that kind of confidence in us in a long time," linebacker Todd McCullough said. "To have the confidence to let us go out and put the game on our backs, that was huge. We went out and stopped them, and that's something we haven't done in the past."

The loss ended Georgia's run at an undefeated season and was the 14th time in the past 16 seasons Florida has beaten the Bulldogs. Georgia was playing without quarterback D.J. Shockley, who stood on the sideline with a knee injury.

"Everyone wants to be undefeated," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There are no excuses. Florida played better than us. They had a little time to prepare, but once our defense hunkered down a little, we were able to slow them down. But (Florida) was hot."

Richt was right.

The bye week made all the difference.

While most teams spend open weeks giving players much-needed rest, Florida spent last week "hitting and trying to figure out how to block people," Meyer said. They were re-evaluating and overhauling what they had done the first seven weeks of the season, revamping a stalled offense and shoring up the defense.

The time off also gave them time to rebuild confidence.

So when the Gators arrived at Alltel Stadium, they expected things to be different.

"We told the offense if you just score 14 points, we'll win this game," linebacker Brandon Siler said. "Nobody's supposed to score more than 14 on this defense." In a change of pace from previous games against ranked opponents this season, it was the early play of the offense that set the tone. Chris Leak was 15-of-20 for 108 yards and one touchdown in a much-improved effort. The Gators had balance: 108 passing yards, 153 rushing.

Meyer said all last week the staff had added a few plays, and the Gators wasted no time showing it. Florida opened with a two-back set and established its running game with a couple of long runs by junior DeShawn Wynn then opened up the passing game with an 11-yard pass to Dallas Baker.

The Gators took a 7-0 lead on the opening drive with a 3-yard run by Leak - who leaped over defenders into the end zone - six minutes in. Tight end Tate Casey, who has been almost nonexistent, this season, made it 14-0 with a 1-yard touchdown catch with 6:09 left in the first quarter.

Florida had an opportunity to go up 21-3 just before halftime, but with first and goal at the 6, Wynn fumbled a handoff with 54 seconds left. Wynn finished with 109 yards on 19 carries.

Georgia also had its chances. Brandon Coutu made a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter but missed from 39 and 52 yards in the second half. Georgia scored its only touchdown on a pass from Thomas Brown to Tereshinski with 3:43 left in the third. Florida held Georgia to 177 rushing yards and 109 passing.

"This was a great win," Strong said. "This was the signature win we needed for our program."