Saturday October 31, 2009No. 1 Gators Overpower Georgia, 41-17
In front of a Halloween crowd of 84,604 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Saturday, the No. 1 Gators defeated Georgia, 41-17, in the 87th meeting between the two SEC Eastern Division rivals. Under clear and sunny skies, Gator senior quarterback Tim Tebow, a Jacksonville native, helped lead the Gators (8-0, 6-0 SEC) to victory, surpassing UGA’s Herschel Walker for sole possession of the SEC record for rushing touchdowns (50) with a minute and a half to go in the first half following a 23-yard touchdown scamper.
With a four-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, his 51st career touchdown, Tebow moved into third place in Southeastern Conference history for the most touchdowns, rushing and receiving, ever scored, behind Walker (52) and Kevin Faulk of LSU (53). Tebow finished the day 15-of-21 with 164 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while rushing 18 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The Florida defense, which tallied a season-high four interceptions in the victory, was led by senior linebacker Ryan Stamper, who also hails from Jacksonville, and redshirt junior linebacker A.J. Jones’ (Tampa, Fla.). With Jones’ interception to start the second half, the UF defense has now intercepted a pass in 19 of Florida’s last 20 games. Jones didn’t stop with one interception, but picked off another UGA senior quarterback Joe Cox pass at the end of the third quarter, his third interception in the last two games. Jones additionally tallied five tackles, including two for a loss of nine yards, and one quarterback sack. Stamper recorded his first career pick with 11:54 to go in the game, accompanying two tackles on the day.
Senior linebacker Brandon Spikes (Shelby, N.C.) rounded out UF’s stellar defensive efforts, pulling in UF’s fourth interception of the day, the fifth of his career, after grabbing a UGA Logan Gray pass and taking it in for a score with six minutes left in the game.
After winning the coin toss, Georgia (4-4, 3-3 SEC) deferred to the second half, allowing the Gators to march down the field and take an early 7-0 lead on the opening drive of the game, when Tebow hooked up with senior wide receiver Riley Cooper (Clearwater, Fla.) on a 22-yard lob. The score marked the second time this season Florida had scored a touchdown on the opening drive of a game, the first being against Charleston Southern.
The Cooper/Tebow duo struck again with 3:20 left in the first quarter after the Gator defense forced a Bulldog punt on Georgia’s first possession. UF capped off an 11-play scoring drive with a 29-yard connection from Tebow to Cooper to move the Gators ahead, 14-0. Cooper’s second score through the air Saturday marked the first two-touchdown game for the Gator wide receiver on the 2009 season. Florida closed out a successful first quarter by totaling nine first downs, compared to five for UGA.
On Georgia’s ensuing possession, the Bulldogs put their first points on the board at the beginning of the second quarter, when sophomore kicker Blair Walsh found the uprights on a 49-yard field goal attempt, narrowing the margin to 14-3.
A strong defensive stance from Georgia midway through the second quarter forced a Chas Henry (Dallas, Ga.) punt on Florida’s next drive, giving the Bulldogs possession on their own 35-yard line. Cox led the Bulldogs to a score with a 26-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Aron White. With the extra point, Georgia pulled to within 14-10.
A huge 17-yard gain for Gator tight end Aaron Hernandez (Bristol, Conn.) on a third-and-16 situation for Florida kept a second-quarter scoring drive alive, allowing Florida sophomore kicker Caleb Sturgis (St. Augustine, Fla.) to punch in a career-high 56-yard field goal. The boot was the second-longest field goal in school history, the longest being a 60-yarder by Chris Perkins against Tulane in 1984, and extended the UF lead to 17-10 with 5:53 to go in the half.
Florida capitalized on Georgia’s second punt of the game with 2:30 on the clock, as senior athlete Brandon James’ (St. Augustine, Fla.) 20-yard punt return set up a 23-yard Tebow rushing score, giving the Gators a 24-10 lead at the half, and placing the SEC record for most rushing touchdowns (50) in Tebow’s possession. Florida closed out the first half with 15 first downs, to Georgia’s eight.
With Georgia receiving the ball to start the second half, the Florida defense jumped out of the gates to halt a potential scoring drive. For the second game in a row, Jones intercepted an opponent pass, this time deflecting a Cox throw before diving to catch the interception. With his second career interception, Jones set up another Tebow rushing touchdown, a five-yard run, to give the Gators a 31-10 lead at the 13:30 mark in the third quarter. Tebow’s second touchdown scamper of the game gave him the first multiple rushing and multiple passing touchdown performance of the season.
The Bulldogs were quick to respond with a touchdown of their own, driving 79 yards downfield on 14 plays, capped off with a four-yard pass from Cox to senior Michael Moore. With the extra point, Georgia narrowed the difference, 31-17, with just over six minutes to go in the third quarter.
A season-long, 61-yard Henry punt pinned UGA on its own six-yard line, and another great defensive stance by Jones, who recorded his second interception of the game, gave the ball back to the Gators. While UF was forced to punt a second time in the second half, Henry’s second punt gave Georgia possession on its own three-yard line, forcing yet another thrown Cox interception, this time picked off by Stamper.
The Orange and Blue was able to capitalize on the Stamper interception with a 44-yard field-goal success from Sturgis, his second of the day, to put UF ahead, 34-17. On Georgia’s ensuing possession, a Logan Gray pass was picked off on the Bulldog five yard-line and taken in for a five-yard score by Spikes, the third interception touchdown of his career, which brought the margin to 41-17 in favor of the Gators, to conclude the SEC East showdown.
Florida will return home to Gainesville on Nov. 7 to continue SEC play against Vanderbilt. Game time is slated for 7:15 p.m. and will be broadcast on either ESPN or ESPN2. Check www.GatorZone.com for updated broadcast information.