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Ignore the problems for now; it's a win

Suspect second half? Suspect running game? Just remember the East title is in reach.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published October 29, 2006


JACKSONVILLE - For the second straight game, the offense jumped out to a lead then couldn't score a single point in the second half.

For the second straight game, the running game was average at best, this time without using a single running back for 95 percent of the plays.

For the seventh time in eight games, it was the defense that held things together when it all seemed to be falling apart.

And although he wanted to take issue with all of his team's problems, when you earn a 21-14 victory over Georgia in front of 84,572 at Alltel Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the best thing to do is celebrate.

"My wife is going to smack me when we get home," Meyer said after an opening statement pointing out his team's several flaws. "Enjoy a win, man, especially against these guys, especially in this environment, especially with a great bunch of people in that locker room that played their hearts out. There's just a little disappointment. That's all it is."

Down 21-0, Georgia rallied with two touchdowns and had a chance to get the ball back with 2:40 left. It stopped Andre Caldwell for a 2-yard loss on third and 3. But Quentin Moses was called for an inadvertent facemask, giving Florida a first down.

"That sealed the game" Caldwell said. "That was probably the biggest play of the game."

Yes, the Gators 7-1, 5-1 SEC have some problems that need to be fixed: costly penalties (10 for 75 yards, including one that brought back a touchdown), turnovers (one interception, three fumbles, one lost) and the lack of a solid running game (43 of 165 yards from tailbacks).

But despite it all, Saturday's win meant Meyer was able to utter words Florida fans have been waiting six years to hear.

"We are officially playing for an SEC East championship," he said.

If the Gators win their next two games, at Vanderbilt and at home to South Carolina, they will earn the SEC East title. And that was as big a topic of conversation Saturday night as the problems.

"I haven't heard that since I've been here, so it feels real good," senior center Steve Rissler said. "We're ecstatic."

Florida's joy was Georgia's misery. The Bulldogs (6-3, 3-3) have now lost 15 of the past 17 games against Florida, and coach Mark Richt is 1-5 against the Gators.

"I don't feel good about this," Richt said. "I don't enjoy losing to the Gators. But I will say this: When most teams would lie down and die, this team didn't."

Not at all.

Florida took a 14-0 halftime lead with two touchdowns from Caldwell. The graduate of Jefferson High in Tampa scored on a 12-yard reverse 5:41 into the game and on a 40-yard pass from Chris Leak with 9:37 left in the second quarter. Leak was 14-of-28 for 163 yards.

"They left the middle wide open," Caldwell said. "When I get some open space, I'm going to make somebody miss. I'm a playmaker. I'm going to try my best to make it to the end zone."

The Gators added another touchdown when Ray McDonald recovered a fumble by Kregg Lumpkin (caused by Derrick Harvey) and ran it 9 yards 32 seconds into the third quarter.

Georgia freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford struggled early but helped mount a strong rally. He scored on a 13-yard run with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter. Then Georgia scored again on an 8-yard run by Lumpkin with 8:17 remaining in the game; a drive set up by a fumble by backup quarterback Tim Tebow.

Georgia had five turnovers in the game.

The Florida defense entered the game as the SEC's No. 1 rushing unit, having allowed just one touchdown all season. Saturday, the Bulldogs scored two. But Florida held Georgia to 98 rushing yards, and Stafford was 13-of-33 for 151 yards.

"We had an opportunity, and we couldn't cash in," Richt said.

"It's a shame."

Antonya English can be reached at (813) 226-3389 or english@sptimes.com.