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After hard times, Florida Gators and Urban Meyer have a reason to cheer

Florida coach Urban Meyer does a Gator chomp in the direction of heckling Georgia fans as he leaves the field after the victory. “This was the biggest win we’ve coached in a long time,” Meyer says.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Florida coach Urban Meyer does a Gator chomp in the direction of heckling Georgia fans as he leaves the field after the victory. “This was the biggest win we’ve coached in a long time,” Meyer says.

JACKSONVILLE — He ran. He smiled. He dropped to his knees, and like his program, he rose again to celebrate some more.

There in the glow of the EverBank Field stadium lights, and in the glow of victory, Urban Meyer was happy again. Finally, he was on the proper side of a scoreboard, and the night could not contain him.

He yelled. He chomped. He pumped his fists into the night air, again and again, as he allowed the sheer delight of the moment to wash over him like the cheers from the grandstands. Every now and then, he would sprint across the grass to find a brand new spot to enjoy himself.

At last, Meyer's football team had won a football game. At last, there was a moment to savor. And, by golly, Meyer seemed determined to savor it.

He sang. He hugged. He ran along the end zone wall and slapped every palm he could reach.

Such was the sight of a coach reborn, and perhaps with it, a program. The Florida Gators, after three weeks of tasting the cleats of their opponents, finally won again Saturday when they beat Georgia in overtime, 34-31. Perhaps, just perhaps, they also rediscovered their direction.

It has been such a long month for the Gators, who have lost when their defense gave up too many points, or when their offense scored too few, or when they could not hold a lead. For a month, they were among the most underachieving programs in the nation, a notation that seemed to greatly amuse the rest of the SEC.

Understand, then, Meyer's ebullience in the afterglow of the victory. This was a statement that the winning is not done, that the run is not over.

"This is the biggest win we've had, and we've had some big ones around here," Meyer said later. "People might say we've had some bigger ones, but I'd argue with that. This was the biggest win we've coached in a long time. From the demeanor, from recruiting, from the guys in that locker room. That was an emotional locker room. These guys went to hell and back in the last three weeks.

"We've had our brains kicked in the last three weeks, and we needed to get the ship righted. Our young players haven't experienced a win like that. As hard as we go (at practice), at some point, you better get the reward. That's why it was critical."

There are times Meyer can be distant, even cold. He is not prone to small talk or fuzzy moments. Still, this is Meyer's program, and the responsibility to keep it elite is his.

All of those who had blamed quarterback John Brantley, or all of those who had ripped offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, were missing the point. Around Florida, Meyer is always the man to blame. If Addazio has not figured out square pegs and round holes, it is Meyer who hired him. If Brantley was an ill fit into this offense, it is Meyer who recruited him.

Can you imagine what this week would be like if the Gators had lost their fourth straight game? For the Gators, it would have been a metaphoric return to Zookville, and the outcry might have blown up the Internet.

"It felt good," Meyer said. "We needed that. My family needed that. A lot of families in there (the locker room) needed that."

He tweaked. He tinkered. And let's face it, he pardoned.

There is a reason Meyer is 14-1 as a head coach after a bye week. Take Saturday night's game. Somehow, he squeezed 110 yards rushing out of Trey Burton, and he found 193 yards passing from Brantley. He uncovered the big plays that had been missing (the Gators had five plays of 20 yards or more). He went to the no-huddle. He played two quarterbacks at a time (shifting Brantley and Burton just before the snap with the other playing receiver).

And, yeah, Meyer played Chris Rainey, the receiver who sent a threatening text message to his former girlfriend. That's going to roll some eyes this morning — one Georgia fan bellowed at Meyer that he "sold his soul" to play Rainey and, as a result, was "going to hell" — but when the Gators didn't dismiss Rainey from the team at the time, this day was always going to happen. No, I wouldn't have played him. On the other hand, the Gators probably don't win this game without him.

How big was this win? Oh, about the size of a sandwich to a starving man. True, Georgia is only 4-5, and true, there were times the Gators looked as if they had no idea how to stop Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, a former Plant High star. There is still a lot of improvement needed to find the "edge" that Meyer says his team needs.

For a night, at least, the losing stopped.

For a night, it was enough.

After hard times, Florida Gators and Urban Meyer have a reason to cheer 10/30/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 30, 2010 11:50pm]

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