1. Archive

Gator defense makes points

Linebacker Darren Hambrick always imagined he would do a shimmy shake. And Jason Bates can't explain why he dove across the goal line without a tackler in sight.

But, please, forgive the Florida defense for its lack of panache in the end zone. Had the Gators known they would score three times against an offense led by one of the country's most feared passers, they would have rehearsed.

Florida returned two interceptions and a fumble into the end zone Saturday in a 52-14 victory over Georgia, scoring three defensive touchdowns for the first time in school history.

"It's great," said Hambrick, who collapsed to the turf after returning an interception 81 yards on the final play of the first half. "This is the most we've ever scored. It was a great comeback for us."

Most would have expected Georgia receivers to be dancing in the end zone. Senior quarterback Eric Zeier, a Heisman Trophy candidate, must have been giddy at the prospect of working against a Florida pass defense that ranked next to last in the SEC by surrendering 226 passing yards per game. Zeier averaged 382.

But while Florida's defense could not keep Zeier from collecting 261 yards to move to fourth on the NCAA's list of all-time passers, it did everything else. For the first time in 18 games, Zeier did not throw a touchdown pass.

"I felt like all week long everybody thought they were going to run right through our defense," Florida defensive coordinator Bobby Pruitt said. "But our guys wanted to prove that they could play defense."

Zeier nibbled at Florida for 19 completions and 152 yards in the first half. Out routes, swing passes, slant patterns. Nine yards, 15 yards, 5 yards. The Gators' pass rush came nowhere near Zeier, except for a pair of roughing the passer penalties.

But just when it appeared the Bulldogs had frustrated Florida to the bone, the Gators took a couple huge bites.

Safety Michael Gilmore scooped up a fumble and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown and a 24-17 lead in the second quarter. Then, with the Bulldogs driving in the closing seconds of the half, Hambrick picked off a Zeier pass over the middle and rumbled down the sideline.

Suddenly, a defense that had struggled to cover the slot man had put 14 points on the board for a 31-7 halftime lead.

"A lot of the big plays we made, there's no way to tell what would have happened had we not made them," Gilmore said. "That's why they call them big plays. Zeier can make a lot of things happen."

Bates returned his second interception 9 yards for a touchdown. Then came an interception by Dexter Daniels. It was the first time Zeier threw four interceptions in a game.