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Defense does the trick for Florida

The No. 9 Gators take another step toward the SEC title game as they dominate Georgia and the rivalry between the two in a 21-14 victory.

October 29, 2006|From the Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — Florida Coach Urban Meyer was the first to toast his defense -- an appropriate gesture even if this wasn't supposed to be a cocktail party anymore.

The defense forced two fumbles and intercepted two passes, helping the ninth-ranked Gators beat Georgia, 21-14, on Saturday and continue their recent dominance in the rivalry.

"Thank God for great defense," Meyer said.

Florida now has won eight of nine and 15 of the last 17 in the series that has been known for decades as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. School and city officials believe the nickname conjures up images of drunkenness -- not what they want to promote, especially after the deaths of two Florida students the last two years.

They urged television networks to stop using the moniker altogether.

Whatever you want to call it, it has been all Gators lately.

With the latest victory, Florida remained atop the Southeastern Conference East Division and moved a step closer to returning to the conference title game for the first time since 2000. The Gators, 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the conference, need to beat Vanderbilt and South Carolina to make it happen.

The Bulldogs (6-3, 3-3) lost for the third time in four games and essentially dropped out of the division race.

Although Andre Caldwell scored two early touchdowns -- a 12-yard run and a 40-yard reception from Chris Leak -- Florida's defense got the credit for this one.

Georgia managed only 64 yards rushing, and freshman Matthew Stafford completed 13 of 33 passes for 151 yards and was sacked four times in his fourth start.

"They are a great defensive unit that sometimes get overshadowed because of their offense," Stafford said.

Not Saturday.

Florida's defense made several key plays:

* Derrick Harvey stripped the ball from Kregg Lumpkin on the first play of the second half, and Ray McDonald returned it nine yards for a score and a 21-0 lead.

* Jarvis Moss forced another fumble on the ensuing possession, knocking the ball from Stafford's hands. Florida had a chance to extend the lead, but kicker Chris Hetland missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt.

* Georgia cut the lead to 21-7 on Stafford's 13-yard run and was driving again, but Reggie Lewis picked off Stafford's deep pass down the sideline.

* The defense stepped up one more time -- maybe when Florida needed it most. The Bulldogs turned Tim Tebow's fumble into an eight-yard touchdown run by Lumpkin, making it 21-14 with 8:17 to play, then forced the Gators to punt. But linebacker Brandon Siler sacked Stafford on the first play of what Georgia hoped would be a game-tying drive.

Florida forced a punt, then ran out the final 3:50.

"They missed a field goal and we got some points on the board but just couldn't get it done," Georgia Coach Mark Richt said. "Some things happened that hurt us.... It comes down to this: We turned it over five times again, and you just won't beat anyone doing that."

The Florida defense bailed out Hetland (two misses), Leak (interception) and Tebow (fumble) while giving up only 215 yards.

"When we see the offense struggling, we know we have to put it in another gear," cornerback Ryan Smith said.

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