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November 1, 2008

Florida blows out Georgia to stay in title hunt

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tim Tebow' s pass arched high above the left sideline before being pulled down by Louis Murphy.

Touchdown, Florida!

The 44-yard bomb from the defending Heisman Trophy winner staked the Gators to a 25-point lead over rival Georgia with less than 10 minutes left in the third quarter. And it was the exact moment when Florida turned one of the season's most anticipated games into a glorified scrimmage.

It did more than that. Tebow's killer third-quarter strike in this 49-10 romp put him back into this year's Heisman race, while also hoisting the Gators back into the national title fight.

Tebow completed 10-of-13 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 12 times for 39 yards and three scores. It was vintage Tebow, who never dazzles with numbers but almost always delivers an efficient performance. Now, Tebow finds himself squarely in the Heisman hunt with Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Texas' Colt McCoy and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.

The victory also means Florida likely will cruise to the SEC East title, steaming toward a showdown with unbeaten Alabama in the SEC title game. Beat the Crimson Tide and a spot in the BCS title game might await if Texas Tech or Penn State stumbles down the stretch.

"We gotta get to Atlanta. We gotta get to Atlanta. We gotta get to Atlanta," Florida coach Urban Meyer recited. "That's the program goal every year.

Florida used a five-touchdown performance by QB Tim Tebow and a strong ground game (185 yards) to demolish Georgia, 49-10. The Gators' defense also played a huge role, harassing Georgia QB Matthew Stafford into 18-of-33 passing with three interceptions and limiting RB Knowshon Moreno to 65 yards rushing with a fumble.
It's Tebow, who completed 10-of-13 passes for 154 yards and three TDs, and ran 12 times for 39 yards and three scores.
Georgia drove to the Florida 30-yard line early in the second half trailing 14-3. That's when Stafford was intercepted by CB Joe Haden, who returned the pick 88 yards to the Bulldog 1-yard line. Tebow scored on the next play to put Florida up, 21-3.
Georgia LB Darius Dewberry injured a quad in the second quarter and never returned.
The 39-point margin of victory was the second-largest in the series. This also marked the largest margin of defeat for Georgia under Mark Richt. Florida has won nine of the past 11 meetings. Tebow scored his 37th career rushing TD with 7:29 left in the first quarter to pass Emmitt Smith as Florida's all-time leader. Urban Meyer is now 15-4 vs. ranked teams.

The Gators have won four in a row since a vexing 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss. Try to find a hotter team in the nation. You can't.

Since that loss to the Rebels, the Gators have outscored their last four foes, 201-50. Saturday's performance wasn't the highest scoring or most dominating in that span, but it might have been the most impressive. Georgia came in equally hot, ranked No. 8 and off a 42-30 whipping of Florida last year.

Meyer didn't need to use any gimmicky motivational ploy, like having his team run out on the field to celebrate the first touchdown of the game. Georgia coach Mark Richt had no chance to use any tricks - if he had any.

"Florida did a good job today, no doubt," Richt said. "We really played better than the score indicates, I think. I don't think there is as much difference in the two teams as the score."

Richt was wrong. The Bulldogs looked doomed from the start, missing two first-half field goals and failing to surprise the Gators with an onside kick. The Gators recovered and proceeded to score on a Tebow TD run to go up, 14-3. Georgia began to press, and the Florida defense pounced.

"The difference between this year and last year is we are mature and have competition on defense," Meyer said. "We lost nine starters off of our national title team [in 2007] and we ended up having guys start [last year] who didn't deserve it. That's not a problem this year."

Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong was tweaking the game plan right up until Tuesday, changing blitz packages and revising personnel groupings. It worked. Georgia outgained Florida, 398-373, but the Gators forced four turnovers and muted Bulldog running back Knowshon Moreno (65 yards rushing on 17 carries). Bulldog quarterback Matthew Stafford was flummoxed, hitting just 18-of-33 attempts for 265 yards with three interceptions and no touchdowns. Meanwhile, Florida's offense kept rolling.

"Talent will get you seven wins," Meyer said. "Discipline will get you maybe eight. When you start getting the leadership is when good things happen."

Like blowing out Georgia. And maybe getting to the BCS title game.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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