When senior defensive end Ray McDonald dove into the end zone in the first minute of the third quarter the Florida Gators had to feel the game formerly known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was over. Georgia had managed just 81 yards on 26 plays in the first half and it seemed impossible for the Bulldawgs to put three in the end zone without help.
It was even more certain with 12:18 to go in the third quarter when Jarvis Moss sacked Matthew Stafford causing a fumble that Derrick Harvey recovered. Up three touchdowns with the ball in Georgia territory the Gators quickly moved inside the Georgia setting up a routine 3 yard field goal that would further demoralize the boys from Athens. But, of course there’s no such thing as a routine field goal in Gator land this year. Chris Hetland’s effort brushed the outside of the right upright and Georgia was spared.
Then the worst thing of all happened. The Gators apparently started thinking about Vanderbilt! OK, maybe not but Florida ceased to play with the kind of confidence that dominated the first 40 minutes of action and started playing like the Gators who used to give games away in Jacksonville.
Offense Hard to Figure
Georgia’s rally began with another bad decision by senior quarterback Chris Leak who tried to force the ball to Dallas Baker and got intercepted instead. It was a play that should have been abandoned before the snap with freshman Jared Fayson looking confused. It was a ball that should have been eaten or thrown away. Instead, it was a play that woke up 40,000 people who were already debating how early they would head for the parking lot.
After a terrible offensive series, the Gators punted and got a big break when the bouncing ball hit the leg of Georgia blocker Kelin Johnson giving the Gators the ball at the Dawgs 40. The Gators picked up a first down and got into field goal range as the third quarter ended. The second play of the fourth quarter was a 42 yard field goal try that coulda, woulda, shoulda put the Gators up by three scores. But for the sixth time in seven tries, Hetland was off the mark and Georgia had momentum again.
Strange Running Decisions Down The Stretch
Florida made two odd choices in the running game in the fourth quarter that darn near handed the game to the boys in red and black. After Reggie Lewis intercepted a pass with 9:49 to play the Gators chose to put the ball in the hands of freshman quarterback Tim Tebow with the Gators backed up at the six yard line. I’ve been an advocate for Tebow getting more chances, but backed up to the end zone in the fourth quarter is not what I had in mind. That was a time to put the ball in the hands of seniors Leak and DeShawn Wynn and get what you can, take time off the clock and make no mistakes.
Tebow’s fumble set up Georgia to make it a 21-14 game, and with 8:17 still on the clock it was like old times for the aged of Gator fans. At last the Gators turned to Wynn who picked up a first down on two runs. Florida might have had a chance to drive for a clinching score, but a 30-yard gain by Bubba Caldwell was called back for holding and the Gators had to kick.
Florida got the ball back after another three-and-out from its defense and after yet another penalty they handed the ball to Kestahn Moore! Moore had not been on the field all day, unless it was on special teams and promptly fumbled after a hard hit. If not for Billy “on the spot” Latsko falling on the ball with 2:49 to play, Saturday’s outcome could have been very different.
I’m a big believer in veterans handling the ball when the game is on the line. I’m a big believer that your four year starting quarterback MUST be on the field when you are pinned deep in your own territory. I believe the Gator away with some sloppy play and odd decisions Saturday in Jacksonville.
It Looks a lot Like a Weekend in Atlanta
With two games to go, you might as well go ahead with those hotel reservations in Hotlanta. Florida certainly doesn’t have automatic wins with Vanderbilt on the road and South Carolina visiting The Swamp, but those are two games Florida ought to win. Comparatively, Tennessee has a much more difficult schedule with LSU at home and Arkansas on the road the next two weeks. With the Gators and Vols even with one SEC loss each, Florida has a huge advantage there. Additionally, Tennessee also has Vandy and Kentucky still to play in the final two weeks.
Arkansas is still in great shape for the SEC West title. The Razorbacks are the only unbeaten SEC team at 4-and-0, but Auburn is the only Western team with just one loss and that can at the hands of the Hogs. Houston Nutt’s crew still has games on the road against South Carolina (this week) and Mississippi State (Nov. 18). But their big tests come when they host Tennessee (Nov. 11) and LSU (Nov. 24).
A Florida/Arkansas game would be a rematch of the ’95 title game that the Gators dominated 34-3. It would also create the fascinating match up of the SEC’s best run defense (Florida 67.3 yds./g) against the league’s most prolific running offense (Arkansas 235.4 yds./g).