It seems incredibly hard to believe, yet Florida-Georgia is almost upon us once again. Which means it is time once again to jump into the time machine and go back. Fortunately, we don’t have to go back too far to find something slightly more uplifting than what we have had to witness lately in this game. So join me as we go back…back…back…
Hillary Clinton and a charismatic young senator from Illinois were gearing up for the Democratic presidential primaries. Boris Yeltsin, Beverly Sills, and Jerry Falwell kicked the bucket. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit the shelves of bookstores, much to the protestations of evangelicals everywhere. The movie version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass came out and barely registered a blip on the radar of the public consciousness.
And on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in late October in Jacksonville, Florida and Georgia teed it up once more.
Yes, the year was 2007. Tim Tebow was electrifying crowds in Gainesville and all around the country in his first full year as the starting quarterback at Florida. Earlier that year he had lit up Tennessee and set Philip Fulmer’s seat on fire with a 59-20 win. His team hit a few bumps in the road though, including a 28-24 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, a 20-17 loss to Auburn on a last-second field goal, and a 45-37 win over Kentucky in which Tim Tebow got roughed up significantly. Still, Florida was 5-2 and ranked #9 in the AP poll going into this game.
Georgia, meanwhile, was 5-2 and ranked #17 but struggling through a less-than-memorable first half of the season. Highlights included a 35-14 win over Oklahoma State in the season opener, a 45-17 win over Ole Miss, and a 26-23 overtime win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa in Nick Saban’s debut season. But there were plenty of lowlights, including a listless 16-12 loss to South Carolina in the season’s second game, a 35-14 bodyslam in Knoxville in which Tennessee scored 28 points during the pregame warmups, and a 20-17 win over Vanderbilt that was not decided until the last play of the game. That game ended badly, as Georgia players bum-rushed the field and stomped on Vanderbilt’s logo after the game-winning field goal.
Add to all of this the fact that Florida had won 15 of the previous 17 games in this series, and suffice it to say that confidence was not exactly brimming at an all-time high this weekend.
But all of that changed in the opening minutes as Knowshon Moreno broke loose for the game’s first score and all hell broke loose. Mark Richt had ordered up a team celebration after the first score; the Georgia players took him at his word and bum-rushed the field. The resulting excessive celebration penalties forced Georgia to kick off from their own 8-yard-line, but it gave Florida a shock from which they would not recover for the rest of the game.
Florida fought on bravely, but a hobbled Tim Tebow and a porous defense were too much to overcome. For every big play Florida made, Georgia had an answer. A 53-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Mikey Henderson was lethal; it put Georgia up 35-24 with 11 minutes left in the game. The game was over when Tim Tebow fumbled a snap with 2:53 remaining; Georgia recovered and was able to run out the clock.
This win was an energizer for Georgia in 2007; it sparked a late-season run that ended with Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and right in the thick of the national championship discussion that year.
Returning to the present, Georgia finds itself in a much similar situation. Georgia is 5-2 and ranked #22 in the AP poll going into Jacksonville, but has not done much to inspire confidence to this point; an 0-2 start followed by a succession of flawed wins, the latest of which was a win over Vanderbilt in Nashville that was not decided until the last play of the game and ended badly with the coaches getting into it. Hopefully the outcome in Jacksonville will be similar to what it was four years ago. We can hope, can’t we?