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UF Gators: Florida takes time (twice) to rub it in

JACKSONVILLE — It was as close as anyone will ever get to a perfect crime on a field of play.

It did not merit a penalty, and it probably won't draw a reprimand from the league office. There will be no YouTube video to point at and no angry words to recall.

There is absolutely no evidence Urban Meyer did anything wrong Saturday.

Unless you want to count the embarrassed looks on the faces of the Georgia Bulldogs when they might as well have had their pants pulled down around their knees in the final minute of Florida's 49-10 victory.

For no discernible reason other than revenge, the Gators called consecutive timeouts with 44 and 30 seconds remaining in a runaway game. There was no attempt to run the score up. No angry gestures on the sideline. Just an implied middle finger salute from one rival to another.

"We were enjoying the moment, enjoying the game," Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said. "We didn't do anything wrong. We were just playing the game."

Consider it a crime of passion. For more than a year, the Gators have lived with the memory of Georgia's 42-30 victory that essentially buried Florida's chances for a Southeastern Conference title in 2007. More than that, they lived with the humiliation of the Dawgs doing a team-wide end zone dance after an early touchdown.

Strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti had a photo of the Georgia boogie mounted in his office almost from the moment it happened. More photos showed up on the lockers of Florida players last week.

Throughout offseason workouts, the Gators were reminded of how soft they played against Georgia when Marotti pushed them to do repeated sets of push-ups, sit-ups and crunches. Depending on the workout, the players had to do 42 (for Georgia's points) or 188 (for running back Knowshon Moreno's rushing total) reps.

"This was a lot off of our shoulders," safety Ahmad Black said. "All we've heard is Georgia, Georgia, Georgia."

The subjects of dancing and payback were off-limits around Gainesville last week. Meyer would not let his players talk about it, and he avoided the subject himself. The best gauge of the Florida coach's feelings was a passage in a recent biography when he suggested Florida would find a way to "handle" the slight.

So maybe the intent of Tebow's 25-yard touchdown pass with 11:30 remaining could be debated. And even the 7-yard touchdown pass by backup quarterback John Brantley in the final eight minutes is open to interpretation.

But, really, there is no mistaking the purpose behind the timeouts. Unless you want to argue which timeout was kiss-my-butt and which was stick-it-in-your-ear.

For the record, Meyer said the timeouts were simply a way to get extra carries for running back Emmanuel Moody. Later, however, Meyer touched on the importance of respecting the game.

Maybe that was a jab at Georgia's behavior last season, or maybe it was an explanation for his subtle retaliation Saturday. Perhaps it was a little bit of both.

No matter how he wanted to spin it, the message was received. Meyer and Georgia coach Mark Richt did a drive-by handshake at midfield when the game was finally completed.

Meanwhile, when the final timeouts were called, the bleachers at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium told the story as accurately as the scoreboard. The Georgia side of the stadium was nearly empty, and the Florida side was getting revved up for the postgame celebrations.

"We looked over at their sideline and saw all of their fans had gone," receiver Percy Harvin said. "We just wanted to rub it in a little bit, but not too much."

So if last season's loss kept Florida out of the SEC title game, Saturday's victory ensures the Gators control their own destiny in 2008. A victory next week against Vanderbilt will clinch the Eastern Division title and a date in Atlanta on Dec. 6.

As for the Bulldogs, they began the season as the No. 1 team in the nation. Now, in the final month of the regular season, they are not even No. 1 in their division.

It has been said if you want to dance, you must pay the fiddler.

On Saturday, a year-old bill came due for Georgia.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

UF Gators: Florida takes time (twice) to rub it in 11/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 12:25pm]
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