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October 28, 2006

Game notes: Gators smelling SEC East title

Experts' blog
Scenes from Saturday
The College Football Wire

Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

Rebuilding hard to swallow | Florida defense steals the show
Florida 21, Georgia 14 | Box score

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Florida coach Urban Meyer doesn't like to look past the next game, but after Saturday's 21-14 victory over Georgia he acknowledged the Gators are on the brink of winning the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.

"We are officially in the hunt for the SEC East title," he said. "We need to get our mistakes fixed this week and then get out there and beat Vanderbilt next week."

The Gators (7-1, 5-1 in the SEC) are seeking to return to the SEC championship game for the first time since 2000. Florida's final conference game of the year is against South Carolina on Nov. 11 in Gainesville.

Time for a change

Meyer also acknowledged it's time for a change at kicker after Chris Hetland missed from 40 and 42 yards.

Hetland has converted just one of seven field-goal attempts this season.

"I don't want to, but I think it's time (to change)," Meyer said.

Despite Hetland's problems, Meyer said he has been the team's most accurate kicker in practice.

"He has not been beat out in practice," Meyer said. "If he had, we'd have had another kicker."

Georgia wouldn't give up

When Florida took a 21-0 lead on the first play of the third quarter, most of the 84,572 at Alltel Stadium were probably anticipating a blowout.

The Bulldogs were not among them.

Georgia rallied for two touchdowns to cut the lead to 21-14 midway through the fourth quarter.

"I felt our leaders did a good job of getting us back into the game," Georgia defensive back Paul Oliver said. "We had a few opportunities late where we did not capitalize. I thought our defense played hard and made some plays."

Added offensive lineman Nick Jones: "I was proud of our team for not giving up. Even when things seemed bad, we kept fighting and got back into the game. We never gave up."

Tough breaks

Although Georgia coach Mark Richt could point to numerous errors by his team, two key mistakes thwarted the Bulldogs' comeback effort.

The Bulldogs were expecting to get good field position when Florida's Eric Wilbur punted from his 24-yard line with a little more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The short punt only trailed 35 yards, but deflected off the right calf of Georgia's Kelin Johnson and Florida's Reggie Nelson recovered.

Later, with Florida clinging to a one-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs were on the verge of forcing a punt with the Gators facing third and 3 at their 35.

Defensive end Quentin Moses wasn't fooled on an end-around to Andre Caldwell, but while trying to make the tackle he inadvertently grabbed Caldwell's facemask.

The 5-yard penalty gave Florida a first down and allowed the Gators to run out the clock.

"Some things happened that hurt us," Richt said. "The punt that touched our blockers and gave them the ball and we lost momentum. Even on that last stop we got a facemask. It comes down to this; we turned it over five times and you just won't beat anyone doing that."

A block, but no break

Florida punt returner Brandon James can't get a break when he breaks one.

James had a 66-yard return for a touchdown negated by an illegal block in the back penalty.

Earlier this season he had a touchdown called back for a penalty against Tennessee.

"He is a tremendous and dynamic player," Meyer said of James. "He was able to get a punt to the end zone. Unfortunately, the play was nullified by a silly penalty. That's a 75-yard penalty."

Later, James had a 26-yard return that set up a 40-yard Chris Leak touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell.

Running without running backs

The stats showed Florida had 35 rushing attempts, but none went to a running back until DeShawn Wynn got a carry with 8:20 left in the third quarter.

"He did not play for three-and-a-half quarters (actually 2), but he got in my face and told me to get him the ball," Meyer said. "In the past I probably would not have listened to him, but he has proved to me I can trust him. He has been banged up lately and was not at 100 percent. The next week it will be a main focus of ours to get him the ball more."

Wynn is the Gators' leading rusher on the season, and he finished the game with eight carries for 36 yards.

Before Wynn entered the game, the Gators' running plays were primarily by quarterback Tim Tebow, receiver Andre Caldwell on reverses and receiver Percy Harvin - who lined up in the backfield.


Florida defensive end Ray McDonald scored on a 9-yard fumble return on the first play of the second half. It was the first touchdown he's scored at any level of competition. It was also Florida's first touchdown on a fumble return since Keiwan Ratliff returned one 77 yards against Florida State on Nov. 29, 2003. Georgia was scoreless at halftime for the third time this season. The Bulldogs trailed Colorado 10-0 at halftime before rallying for a 14-13 victory and trailed Ole Miss 3-0 before coming back for a 14-9 win. Georgia linebacker Tony Taylor grabbed his fourth interception on the season and his third in the last three games. Florida has now won six consecutive over rivals Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State - the longest streak over those three teams in school history. Meyer's teams are now 11-1 following a loss. Florida fell to Auburn 27-17 on Oct. 14 and had an open date last week. Ryan Smith notched his fifth interception of the season, which is the most by a Gator since Ratliff had nine in 2003.

For more coverage of Florida, visit GatorBait.net; for more on Georgia, visit UGASports.com.

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