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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Looking Back No. 4: Nothing to Celebrate

The buzzword leading up to the game was "celebration," but by the time the final seconds ticked off the clock in Jacksonville, Fla. on Nov. 1, that was the last thing on the minds of Georgia fans.

For a full season, Florida had stewed over the Bulldogs' end-zone celebration that followed their first touchdown in 2007 -- a huge victory for Georgia. Throughout the offseason, the Gators replayed the loss, remembered the huge performance by Knowshon Moreno, and seethed over the perceived slight of the Bulldogs' dance in the end zone.

By the start of the fourth quarter in 2008, however, Florida had gotten its revenge -- even if all parties concerned said the celebration had little to do with the outcome in 2007 or 2008.

"The celebration isn't why we won the game last year," head coach Mark Richt said. "We played very good last year. We played good enough to win. This year, we didn't play good enough to win, and they did."

For Georgia, its season was on the line when it met Florida for their annual SEC East showdown. Redemption for a loss to Alabama earlier in the season was within the Bulldogs' grasp. A trip to the SEC championship game was nearly guaranteed with a victory over the Gators. After nearly two decades of Florida dominance, a second consecutive win in Jacksonville could change the momentum of the series for good.

From the outset, however, everything went sideways for the Bulldogs -- particularly Blair Walsh's field-goal tries.

Walsh missed two first-half field goals and Georgia was thwarted in the red zone three times before the half, helping Florida to a 14-3 lead at the midway point. The 11-point deficit seemed much worse in Georgia's locker room.

"We were down 14-3 and we were in the locker room like we were down 28-0," defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "I was in the locker room trying to get the guys going, and we just didn't come out with that fire like we play real Georgia ball. I don't know what was wrong with us. I don't know if we were shocked or what."

The disappointment carried over into the second half. Georgia's opening drive was sailing along as the Bulldogs cruised to the Gators' 30, but Matthew Stafford threw a crippling interception that Florida returned to Georgia's 1. The Gators scored on the next play, and from there, the route was on. Two more turnovers and a seemingly endless string of Florida scoring drives followed, and the Gators were holding a 49-3 lead before backups Joe Cox and Aron White connected for a garbage-time touchdown.

In the end, Florida head coach Urban Meyer got his revenge -- not just with the numbers on the scoreboard in a 49-10 domination of Georgia, but with two last-minute timeouts he called to prolong the Bulldogs' misery.

"We did our thing last year," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "I feel like they came into this game feeling like they had something to prove and they did with those timeouts and with the way they played."

It was a disappointment for Georgia on numerous levels, and served notice that the balance of power in the SEC hadn't shifted in the Bulldogs' favor just yet. It was the worst loss for Georgia since Mark Richt became head coach. It was perhaps the most visible disappointment in a season that fell far short of expectations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is very well written and factual David Hale.