JACKSONVILLE — When it was all over, when the final seconds had ticked off the clock and No. 5 Florida was celebrating its 49-10 victory over No. 8 Georgia, the truth finally came through.
Yes, the Gators were bothered all year long, nearly every day, about their bitter loss to Georgia last season. And no, it wasn't just about Georgia's infamous end zone celebration. It was just as much about how poorly its defense had played. How badly Florida looked overall against the Bulldogs.
So all week long, Florida's sole mission was to play the best defense it had all season. More important, to stop Georgia star running back Knowshon Moreno and not allow the Bulldogs to run all over the Gators as they had last season.
They executed that plan to perfection.
Holding its archrival without a touchdown until the final 3:09, Florida redeemed itself in front of 84,649 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. The 39-point margin of victory was the second-largest for Florida in the 86-year series.
With a victory over Vanderbilt next week, Florida can clinch the SEC East title.
"(Defensive coordinator) Charlie Strong and his staff did a great job," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "As of Tuesday night, they were still preparing and adjusting their game plan. I thought he called a brilliant game and the players executed well. With great defense, you can win a bunch of ballgames and I thought we played great defense tonight."
Florida (7-1, 5-1 SEC) gave up 398 total yards, but held Georgia (7-2, 4-2) to 106 rushing yards. Moreno, the SEC's second-leading rusher, was held to 65 yards on 17 carries.
"The key was to stop the run," Strong said. "We knew that (Georgia quarterback Matthew) Stafford could throw the ball and they have very good receivers, but our whole key was to stop the run. The way Moreno ran against us last year, we could not let that happen."
The Gators intercepted Stafford (18-of-33 for 265 yards) three times — including an 88-yard return by Joe Haden and a 64-yarder by Ahmad Black. Both led to Florida touchdowns. Dustin Doe also had an interception and Terron Sanders' 20-yard return after recovering a fumble also led to a Florida touchdown.
"There's nothing soft about our defense," Sanders said. "It's a complete turnaround from last season."
While the defense set things up, the offense delivered.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was 10-of-13 for 154 yards and two touchdowns — a 44-yard pass to senior Louis Murphy and a 25-yarder to junior Percy Harvin.
"This was a game we felt would make our season and we got it," said Harvin, who had three receptions for 52 yards and four carries for 37 yards.
Tebow also rushed for three touchdowns, registering 193 total offensive yards.
"We were very emotional, but we were a lot more than emotional because emotion just lasts for 10 or 15 minutes. We were playing with passion, too. We were very passionate and that lasts a lot more than emotion does."
The Gators piled up 373 yards against a defense that entered the game ranked 21st in the nation, and had held opponents to an average of 20.3 points a game.
"Florida did a good job today, no doubt,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "… We can't let this loss hurt us the next time we play. The bottom line is we played and got whipped.''
With so much riding on this game, and the memories of last season, Meyer admitted the victory meant a great deal to him and the Gators.
"What does it mean?" he asked. "It means we're first place in the SEC East all by ourselves. It's a rivalry game and we've done fairly well against our rivals. It means a lot because it's a Top 10 team. This is a game we had to have."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.