This defense has an answer

Published: Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 8:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 8:51 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE Florida found a way to keep Georgia from doing any end zone celebrations Saturday.


Dooley Grades the Gators

First half: Florida only had 25 plays and three of them were when they were trying to run out the first-half clock. Still, the Gators scored 14 points.
Second half: The Gators took advantage of turnovers to lower the boom on the Bulldogs and hit the big plays in the passing game.
For the game: Florida only finished the game with 373 yards but that's all they needed because of so many short fields.

First half: Florida was helped by drops and one really bad pass by Matthew Stafford behind his receiver in the end zone. But Joe Haden's pick was a game-changer.
Second half: The Gators turned it up with big turnovers that turned the game into a rout. They made the Bulldogs one-dimensional.
For the game: The defense did give up almost 400 yards but kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone until a late mop-up touchdown.

First half: Not much of a factor. Coverage on kickoffs and punts was good. Blemish was the kickoff out of bounds by Jonathan Phillips.
Second half: Coverage was good again when the game was on the line. Longest return of the night was called back by a penalty.
For the game: Butch Rowley's recovery of a first-half onsides kick was one of the biggest plays of the game for special teams that got the job done.

It was a total whipping of the Bulldogs for the Gators who are now a win away from winning the East and are back in the BCS talk.

They didn't let the Bulldogs find it until it was too late to matter.

Instead, a defense that was embarrassed on the same field a year ago put the clamps on Georgia's vaunted offense and came up with four huge turnovers that sparked a 49-10 win.

And then these Gators celebrated themselves the way they always celebrate victories by singing the alma mater and the fight song in the same end zone where Georgia had its infamous dance a year ago.

It was a thorough beating that brought back memories of so many Florida wins during the run that has seen the Gators win 16 of 19 games. Florida made the big plays, Georgia went back to playing tight.

Mark Richt's team dropped passes. The Bulldogs missed two field goals. And quarterback Matthew Stafford had a day to forget, throwing three interceptions.

On each one he felt pressure, something that was non-existent a year ago. This hardly resembled the defensive unit that had no answers in 2007 for the Bulldog attack.

"We have maturity and competition for spots," Urban Meyer said. "(Last year) was awful. They had that rubbed in their faces by our strength and conditioning coaches. We were soft on defense."

Asked if the performance of the defense was the answer to last year's game, Meyer said, "It's the only answer. Everyone says there's another way to answer. There is only one answer and that's to tackle well."

The competition that Florida has this year was best illustrated Saturday by linebacker Dustin Doe. A starter until he suffered an injury that required double hernia surgery. Doe wanted to be starting in this big game. He told defensive coordinator Charlie Strong as much during the week.

But Strong went with Ryan Stamper, who had been solid in Doe's place.

"I told him he was going to play," Strong said. "But I told him, 'You're my fastest 'backer and you're my strongest 'backer. When you're in the game you need to play at that high level.' "

Doe's response was an interception that he tipped to himself and a deflection that was intercepted by Ahmad Black.

"The coaches just kept saying, 'Play fast. Play fast,' " Doe said. "Before, I used to play a little laid-back. But now I feel like I'm starting to play up to my potential."

While Florida had all of the motivation it needed, it still needed a plan.

That's why Strong and his defensive coaches were still trying to come up with the right one late on Tuesday night, when game plans have usually been put to bed.

"We had a plan, but I told the coaches we couldn't run it because we were going to get gashed," Strong said. "We usually don't stay late but we were there until 11:30. We wanted to stop the run. We know Stafford can throw it. And they were hurting us early in zone coverages, so Joe Haden came up to me and wanted to play man. He felt they could handle them and that would allow us to keep an extra guy in there to stop the run."

Although Knowshon Moreno ripped off an 18-yard run early, his totals for the rest of the game where exactly what Strong wanted 16 carries for 47 yards.

And it was early in the game that Moreno knew it wasn't going to be easy. On the second play of the game, linebacker Brandon Spikes met Moreno in the hole and punished the tailback.

"That set the tone," Strong said.

Spikes also sent a verbal message to the tailback.

"I just told him I was going to be there all night," Spikes said.

In the game, Georgia actually out-gained Florida 398 yards to 373. But Florida played with a lot of short fields because of the turnovers an an ill-advised onsides kick attempt by Georgia.

There was no bigger play than the interception returned 88 yards to the Georgia 1-yard line by Haden.

"That was a game-changer," said Meyer.

These guys had been hearing about Georgia for a year. They had been hearing about how bad their defense was for a year. And they stood up to the challenge.

They are no longer soft. They are no longer awful.

They are a defense.

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