Sixteenth-ranked Florida scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and held on to beat fourth-ranked but banged-up Georgia 14-10 in front of 84,501 fans in Alltel Stadium.
“We’re all hurting right now,” said Coach Mark Richt, who is now 1-4 against the Gators. “There is no doubt about that. No one is excited, but we have a bunch of first-class kids, and they gave it all they had.”
The Bulldogs took solace after the fact that they still lead their division and control their own destiny in the conference race.
“It makes all the difference in the world,” Richt said. “If we don’t control the rest of the season, then it’s a lot harder to speak to the guys.”
Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) still can guarantee its spot in the SEC Championship game by beating Auburn in two weeks and Kentucky the following week. The Gators, who won for the 14th time in the last 16 games of this series, will win the SEC East if Georgia loses either of those games and they beat Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
“We are still in position to make this a great season, to make this an outstanding season,” said quarterback Joe Tereshinski, who filled in for injured starter D.J. Shockley. “It’s still in our hands.”
While Shockley and defensive tackle Kedric Golston (injured elbow) watched from the sideline, the Bulldogs’ offense scuffled under Tereshinski and its defense stumbled once too often against Urban Meyer’s spread offense.
“That’s football,” Richt said. “Guys get hurt. Every team gets people hurt. They had people hurt. That’s just part of the game. We’re not going to have any excuses at all. We had a chance to win this ball game. We had enough left to get it done. We just didn’t do it.”
The Gators (6-2, 4-2) had two weeks to prepare for the game and caught Georgia’s defense off guard early, linebacker Tony Taylor said.
“They definitely did,” he said. “Obviously, they did a great job game-planning.”
The Bulldogs didn’t expect Florida to run the ball as much as it did,defensive tackle Ray Gant said.
“They came out and played with fire,” Gant said. “The fact they came out and did some things we weren’t expecting didn’t help. It took 14 points for us to wake up and stop them.”
With 6:09 left in the first quarter, Georgia had been outgained 141 yards to 2 and trailed 14-0 thanks to two touchdowns by Chris Leak, one passing and one rushing. From that point forward, Florida gained just 120 yards, but it was too late for the Bulldogs’ short-handed offense.
Georgia didn’t get a first down until the 2:09 mark of the first quarter. Their first two possessions used only three minutes, and Tereshinski was 3-for-11 for 41 yards in the first half.
“I felt going in I could ge the job done, but ultimately that didn’t happen,” said Tereshinski, a third-generation Bulldog. “We lost. I felt like if we got 21 points, we would win this game. We weren’t able to do that.”
The Bulldogs went to the ground game in the second half, running the ball 26 more times than they threw it in the final 30 minutes. Georgia rushed for 177 yards overall and outgained the Gators 286-261 in the game.
“We gave it everything we had and to not get it done hurts,” said Danny Ware, who led the Bulldogs with 71 yards on 14 carries.
Georgia got one last gasp when it took possession on its 20-yard line with 3:10 left, but Tereshinski threw incomplete under heavy pressure on fourth-and-10 with 1:39 remaining. He finished 8-of-21 for 100 yards, one interception and no touchdowns. His only score came on a 9-yard catch on a halfback pass thrown by Thomas Brown.
“He came out and played hard,” Ware said. “I respect the man.”
Despite its struggles, Georgia kept the game close enough that Brandon Coutu’s two missed field goals, one from 39 and one from 52 that hit the right upright, ended up being back-breakers.
Still, there was no finger-pointing in the locker room, Richt said.
“We knew that our offense wasn’t going to be clicking like normal,” defensive tackle Gerald Anderson said. “(Tereshinski) did the best hecould, and the offense did the best they could all the way around.”
Georgia has no choice but to look ahead to the rest of season, when both Shockley and Golston will return from injury and its fate will be in its hands, Richt said.
“It was very positive in the locker room,” Gant said. “We went out and played our hearts out today. We just didn’t win. The mood was down, but the truth is we still control our season.”