For a while at Alltel Stadium today, the game billed as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" looked more like an opportunity to make mud patties than martinis. But when the rain finally stopped in the fourth quarter, Florida gave its fans plenty to feel festive about by scoring two touchdowns in one minute, sealing a 30-14 win over rival Georgia.
The victory gave the No. 5 Gators (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) control of the SEC East and provided Coach Steve Spurrier with his 100th win at Florida. It also supplied quarterback Doug Johnson with a modest measure of redemption, although he struggled a bit in the second half, forcing the Gators' defense to make major plays and the offense to rely on the run. Spurrier, frustrated with Johnson's tendency to call audibles, had threatened to pull Johnson if he didn't play well but said he never came close to that today despite Johnson throwing two second-half interceptions.
"Coach Spurrier just wanted to make me realize that he wanted me to listen to him, that he's the coach," Johnson said. "I've always known that, but sometimes things happen in a game. There were times today that things didn't go great, but I think we communicated a bit better today."
Johnson finished the game 17 of 32 for 234 yards, scoring the game's first touchdown on a pass and its final touchdown on a run. In between, the Gators and the Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2 SEC) exchanged both points and defensive standoffs, starting by racing out to a 7-7 tie in the game's first five minutes.
That's when the torrents of rain began to fall, and while both teams initially had a hard time adjusting to the weather, Georgia was able to take a 14-10 lead by the beginning of the second quarter. The score left the Bulldogs elated and Spurrier frustrated with his defense--so much so that when the Gators found themselves at fourth and two on their 36-yard line, Spurrier decided to go for the conversion. The Gators succeeded when Johnson sneaked past the middle linebacker for an eight-yard gain, and the drive ended with a two-yard touchdown run by tailback Robert Gillespie.
"I was kind of mad at our defense, and Dougie made a nice little play there," said Spurrier, although he also acknowledged that he didn't realize quite how close the Gators were to their own end zone. "I was standing right even with the ball, so I thought it was at midfield."
But when the teams came out after halftime with Florida ahead, 16-14, it was the defense Spurrier had chastised that prevented the Bulldogs from leaping ahead again. Twice Georgia took over inside the Gators 40, and both times the defense shut out the Bulldogs, first on downs and then by forcing a fumble.
The Bulldogs' defense stood out as well, fleecing Johnson for two interceptions, but Georgia couldn't keep up in the end, when Spurrier began to key his offense around the ground game. The rain tapered off, and with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Florida took a 23-14 lead on Bo Carroll's 30-yard touchdown run. The Gators then sealed the win exactly a minute later, taking back the ball when defensive end Alex Brown forced Georgia quarterback Quincy Carter to fumble on the 2. Johnson scored on an option, giving Florida a 30-14 lead.
"We had a chance in the fourth quarter--we played a field position game in the third and had a chance in the fourth," Georgia Coach Jim Donnan said. "But then we had a tough break with the fumble and it kind of disintegrated from there. That was definitely the difference in the game, not taking advantage of the scoring opportunities that were there."
The Bulldogs never got close to scoring again. Carter looked somewhat shaken, finishing the game 6 of 23 for 76 yards. Carter did score two touchdowns on the ground, but he seemed broken after the Florida defense sacked him three times in the second half.
"In the second half, it was like the [SEC championship] rings are on the table," Brown said. "It was just up to us. We knew if they didn't score, they couldn't win. And they couldn't score."