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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- They've been talking about next week's Georgia-Florida game down south since the minute last year's game ended. Both the Dawgs and Gators didn't waste a chance Saturday to make one last emphatic statement heading into their annual Jacksonville showdown.
While it was hardly a surprise to see fifth-ranked Florida beat up on Kentucky, there's nothing like a 63-5 score to raise eyebrows around the country. Once again, the Gators' freshman running backs took advantage of their expanded role in the offense. Jeff Demps ran for 50 yards on seven carries and caught a 61-yard Tim Tebow touchdown pass. Tebow completed 11 of 15 throws.
Meanwhile, No. 9 Georgia flexed its muscle just the way so many of us had been waiting for ever since the Dawgs were anointed the nation's preseason No. 1 team. They throttled No. 11 LSU, 52-38. (The defending national champs have now allowed 50-plus points twice. Where have you gone, Bo Pelini?)
In its most complete performance to date, Georgia got things started with a 40-yard Darryl Gamble interception return for a touchdown and, after a close first half, eventually ran away from the Tigers, going up 38-17. In one riveting span in the third-quarter, Matthew Stafford hooked up with standout freshman receiver A.J. Green for a 49-yard touchdown, then Knowshon Moreno ran right through the middle of the Tigers' defense for a 68-yard score.
This was the Georgia offense we've been waiting for all season. The Dawgs have struggled at times due to the rash of injuries on the offensive line (four different players have started at left tackle), but as a CBS graphic during the game showed, the real difference is fullback Brandon Southerland's return to health. In SEC play, the Dawgs are putting up nearly 200 more yards per game with him in the lineup than without him.
As you may recall, last year's Florida-Georgia game immediately etched itself into that rivalry's lore thanks to the Dawgs' unusual, sideline-clearing end zone celebration. Georgia's 42-30 win ignited the Dawgs' season-ending run to the Sugar Bowl and subsequent preseason buildup. At SEC Media Days in July, "The Dance" was arguably the most popular topic of the entire festivities. Tebow fielded nearly as many questions about Georgia as he did the Heisman. Urban Meyer reportedly remained furious over the incident well into the offseason.
Back then, fans of both teams envisioned next week's showdown being a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 game. Unexpected early losses (Florida to Ole Miss, Georgia to Alabama) dashed that possibility and raised questions about whether there might be more losses forthcoming. Instead, it appears both teams are clicking at just the right moment. The one concern for the Dawgs: Their defense, which allowed 497 yards to LSU (but did pick off Tigers QB Jarrett Lee three times).
Something tells me next week's showdown will be decided as much by emotion/revenge as offense or defense.