GatorZone.com Senior Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gators junior safety Will Hill didn’t play early in the season. When he finally took the field, Hill was often quiet as a mouse.
Hill roared like a lion in the Gators’ 34-31 win over Georgia on Saturday at EverBank Field. Hill had two interceptions, six tackles and broke up a two-point attempt by Georgia when he picked off Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray in the end zone.
But Hill, who battled a cold all week and rotated in and out of the game to conserve energy, saved his best for last when he intercepted Murray’s pass on Georgia’s first drive of overtime and returned it 89 yards to the 1-yard line.
The Gators had to walk back and start at Georgia’s 25 on their first drive of overtime, but Hill’s play clearly shifted momentum in Florida’s favor. Four plays later Chas Henry kicked the game-winning field goal.
“That was Will Hill’s best game,’’ Gators coach Urban Meyer said. “We have been waiting all year on that.’’
So has Hill. After the interception in overtime, he needed an inhaler to help him breath as a pile of teammates piled on him thinking the game was over.
“[Ahmad] Black had good coverage on A.J. [Green],’’ Hill said. “He tipped the ball and it just fell in my lap. I just saw an opportunity and made the best of it. I was struggling earlier in the season and coaches never gave up on me and my teammates never gave up on me.
“For me to come out and play like this, it’s just like paying the team back.’’
The Gators wasted no time in welcoming junior receiver/running back Chris Rainey back to the lineup.
Rainey, who had missed the past five games while serving a suspension, had a 9-yard reception on the game’s first play and a 4-yard run on the second snap.
Rainey didn’t stop there, finishing with 84 yards rushing on 16 carries and two catches for nine yards. Rainey also had 148 kickoff return yards, capping his return to the field with a game-high 241 all-purpose yards.
Meyer said Rainey’s presence forced the Bulldogs to defend more of the field, and had a direct impact on Trey Burton’s 51-yard touchdown run in the second half. Burton finished with a career-high 110 yards rushing.
“The threat of a perimeter issue opens up the Trey Burton touchdown,’’ Meyer said. “That was a direct result.’’
Running back Jeff Demps also played a more prominent role, saying he is about “90 percent’’ recovered from the sprained left foot that has hobbled him the past month. Demps rushed for 38 yards on nine carries and caught two passes, including a 40-yard reception that set up another Burton touchdown one.
The additional speed made Burton’s job easier.
“Those two guys are unbelievable,’’ Burton said. “They are real special guys and we missed them a lot the last few games. [Georgia] had to get ready for outside runs because of Rainey and Demps.”
PLAN TO WIN
Meyer opened his Monday press conference by talking about what has been ailing the Gators during their three-game losing streak. He pointed out a lack of big plays (20 or more yards), losing the turnover battle, a drop in red-zone efficiency and a lack of efficiency in the passing game.
Meyer may open his next press conference by talking about how the Gators improved drastically in those areas in Saturday’s win.
Florida reeled off five plays of 20 or more yards, forced four turnovers, scored on five of six trips inside the red zone (four touchdowns, one field goal) and quarterbacks John Brantley (16 of 25, 193 yards) and Trey Burton (2 of 2, 26 yards) kept the offense moving.
The Gators racked up 450 total yards against Georgia as the offense got rolling with the addition of a hurry-up offense that at one point used four different quarterbacks on four consecutive plays when Jordan Reed took back-to-back snaps, followed by Burton, then Brantley, then back to Burton.
The quarterback rotation was a part of the game plan to keep Georgia’s defense scrambling.
“We need all three of them,’’ offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. “There were all kinds of things going on that add different elements. We wanted to fatigue [Georgia’s defense] out.’’
Receiver Frankie Hammond, who had three catches for 46 yards, liked the hurried pace.
“It’s effective, because it will slow down a defense,’’ Hammond said. “We got a W with that. We’ll go from there. It’s a work in progress. They just put that in a few weeks ago.’’
Senior SS Ahmad Black finished with a team-high 12 tackles, forced a fumble and had two tackles for losses. “I just tried to give it my all,’’ Black said. “It’s my last year, my last Florida-Georgia game.’’ … Henry’s game-winning field goal is the first to end a game for the Gators since Arden Czyzewski’s 41-yard kick defeated LSU 16-13 as time expired on Oct. 7, 1989 … The Gators’ 91-yard scoring drive in the second quarter was their longest of the season … Florida failed to score in the first quarter for the seventh time in eight games … Gators coach Urban Meyer improved to 17-1 in games against Florida’s traditional rivals (Tennessee, Georgia, Florida State, Miami) … Florida improved to 3-2 all-time in overtime games, including 2-0 under Meyer … Florida’s three interceptions on Saturday marked the 30th time in the last 36 games the Gators have had at least one interception … Henry’s 61-yard punt in the first half was his fourth punt of 60 or more yards this season.