Georgia’s end-zone dance after its first touchdown against Florida last season was the symbol of the Gators’ frustrations, but it was the loss to the Bulldogs that motivated them. Saturday’s game wasn’t about revenge. It was about redemption.
That’s exactly what Florida earned with a resounding 49-10 win over Georgia that ended the Bulldogs’ hopes of earning a national championship and effectively punched the Gators’ ticket to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.
“The celebration isn’t why we won the game last year,” Georgia 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.”
A year after they earned national headlines for their full-team celebration following their first touchdown of the game, the Bulldogs’ first touchdown Saturday came late in the fourth quarter with the Gators already ahead by 46. A few listless helmet pats and hallow high-fives were the only celebration that followed the Aron White reception that saved Georgia from its worst loss since World War II.
While the Bulldogs blamed the loss on a series of self-inflicted wounds, the Gators called it destiny.
During the offseason, Florida’s players used last year’s loss to motivate them.
When lifting weights, they did 42 reps – the number of points Georgia scored in its win last season.
When doing crunches, the Gators repeated the motion 188 times – one for each rushing yard Knowshon Moreno gained in last season’s defeat.
The process was repeated hundreds of times, said Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for three more in the game.
It was more than a reminder. It was a burden they forced themselves to carry until redemption could be earned.
“We had different things like a midnight lift and different lifts because we were really looking forward to this game,” Tebow said. “The numbers that we got embarrassed by, we worked on that. This game has been in a lot of our minds all year."
The memories of this year’s loss will no doubt linger for Georgia, which watched one opportunity after another slip through its fingers.
In the first half, the Bulldogs failed to cash in on any of its three red-zone trips, while kicker Blair Walsh missed two short field goals. Georgia botched an on-side kick that set up a Florida touchdown, and a Jarius Wynn personal-foul penalty negated a crucial interception by Prince Miller as the Gators drove into the red zone for their first score of the game.
By halftime, Georgia had outgained Florida by 22 yards and made one more trip to the red zone, but trailed 14-3.
“The offense was driving the ball, but it seemed like every time we got near the end zone, something went wrong, whether it was a pick or a fumble,” linebacker Rennie Curran said. “Whenever it seemed like we were about to go three-and-out, whether it was a penalty or something would happen to keep the drive going. We didn’t capitalize on every single one of our opportunities, and they did a good job of making the big plays when they needed to.”
A rally never materialized.
Georgia stopped Florida’s opening drive of the second half, then moved from its own 1-yard line into Gators territory. On a first-and-10 from the Florida 30, however, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw an out pattern to Mohamed Massaquoi that Gators defensive back Joe Haden intercepted and returned 88 yards to the 1.
“We drove a long way, and on one play, we gave it all back,” Richt said.
Tebow plowed forward for the touchdown one play later to give the Gators a 21-3. That’s when the walls caved in for Georgia.
Three more second-half turnovers followed, and Florida scored touchdowns on four drives of four plays or fewer in the half. The Gators racked up 21 points off Georgia turnovers.
“Things just began to get away from us,” Richt said. “When you make mistakes as we did against a team that’s as good as they are, you just saw the results.”
For the game, Georgia finished with more offensive yards, held the ball longer, had just one fewer first down and threw for 104 more yards than the Gators, but none of that mattered.
The Bulldogs were never dominated, Curran said, but their effort was no match for the Gators’ drive for redemption.
“I know that drove them, but we still came out and played hard,” Curran said. “For the most part, we dominated I feel like in every statistic except for the scoreboard.”
In the end, that’s what matters.
It wasn’t about who had more yards or who had more chances. It mattered who won.
The same was true of last season’s celebration. Georgia’s end zone dance may have been the spark that lit the fire, but it was those numbers on the scoreboard that fanned the flames for Florida for the past year.
“We lost a year ago, and losing doesn’t sit well among our players,” Gators coach Urban Meyer said. “That’s a good thing. They don’t like to lose.