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Georgia ready for Gators after resounding win over LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Georgia coach Mark Richt had just watched his team rout defending national champion LSU 52-38 on Saturday in the Tigers' home stadium.

Richt had watched his offense perform better than it has all season, gaining 443 yards and hitting big play after big play in front of a hostile crowd. And while Georgia's defense left a lot to be desired when it came to tackling and slowing down No. 13 LSU's running game, the Bulldogs did intercept three passes and returned two of them for touchdowns.

The No. 7 Bulldogs didn't have long to enjoy their big road victory, though. Not with a date against No. 10 Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., coming up next on Georgia's schedule.

As big as beating LSU was for the Bulldogs, the victory won't mean much if they lose to the Gators.

"I'll let you know next week," Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford said, when asked what the LSU victory meant to his team. "It's definitely a big 1-2 punch and we are just starting."

And Georgia's toughest test figures to still be coming.

In his biography that was published this summer, Florida coach Urban Meyer said he will never forget Georgia's players jumping in the end zone after scoring their first touchdown in last year's 42-30 win over the Gators.

"That wasn't right," Meyer said in "Urban's Way," which was written with sportswriter Buddy Martin. "It was a bad deal. It will forever be in the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team. We'll handle it and it's going to be a big deal."

Apparently, Richt has already forgotten about it -- or at least that's what he's trying to make people believe.

When asked about the motivational ploy less than an hour after his team beat LSU, Richt referred all questions about the end zone celebration to Claude Felton, the school's sports information director. Felton told a roomful of reporters that he would gladly send them the explanation Richt used for the celebration while talking to reporters in Birmingham, Ala., before the season.

In short, Richt said he didn't intend for all of his players to run on the field in Jacksonville after Knowshon Moreno lunged into the end zone for a touchdown in the first quarter.

But that's the way the fiasco turned out.

"Claude will give you an explanation of what happened last year," Richt said.

If only it were that easy for the Bulldogs to make the Gators forget.

The memory of Georgia's players dancing in the end zone -- and then stomping the Gators on the field for only the third time in 18 years -- will probably be replayed over and over again this week in Gainesville, Fla.

The teams will play again Saturday, and the winner will probably win the SEC East. The loser will be all but eliminated from BCS championship contention, too.

"We know they're going to be fired up," Bulldogs linebacker Rennie Curran said. "The hype has been building ever since that game last year. You watch ESPN and you see us dancing in the end zone over and over again. We know what's at stake, just like we knew what was at stake in this game."

There will be a lot more at stake in Jacksonville. The Bulldogs and Gators are tied atop the SEC East standings with identical 4-1 records against conference foes. Even though both teams lost on the same day last month -- Alabama beat Georgia 41-30 and Ole Miss upset Florida 31-30 in The Swamp on Sept. 27 -- the game in Jacksonville hasn't lost any of its luster.

And that's because of what happened last year as much as anything else.

"I'm sure they're going to be fired up, and it's a high-intensity game," Bulldogs cornerback Asher Allen said. "I think it's going to be a great game. I think Florida is hitting on all cylinders, and I think we're getting better every week."

Beating LSU so soundly -- the Tigers hadn't given up 52 points at home since Florida routed them 58-3 in 1993 -- only made next week's game that much bigger for the Bulldogs.

The Gators certainly caught Georgia's attention earlier in the day with their 63-5 victory over Kentucky. The Gators blocked two punts and a field goal and returned an interception for a touchdown.

Two weeks ago, Florida routed LSU 51-21 in The Swamp.

"It's going to be a big heavyweight fight," Georgia receiver AJ Green said. "It's going to come down to who wants it more."

Georgia was just as dominant as Florida was against LSU, scoring a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Bulldogs linebacker Darryl Gamble intercepted Jarrett Lee's first pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 lead. Georgia led 21-7 early in the second quarter and led by as many as 21 points in the second half.

"I just really believe a win is a great win," Richt said. "You just need to win if you want to keep pace. That's really the only way I look at it right now. More than likely, the winner of that game will go to Atlanta. Put it this way: They'll be in really, really good shape."

Georgia is in much better shape than it was a month ago, when No. 2 Alabama embarrassed the Bulldogs, taking a 31-0 lead at the half at Sanford Stadium. Credit goes to Georgia's offensive line, which consists of three freshmen and two sophomores. The Bulldogs have had four different starters at left tackle because of injuries. Somehow, Georgia has allowed only one sack in its past three games.

LSU's defensive front of Tyson Jackson, Ricky Jean-Francois and Kirston Pittman put little pressure on Stafford. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and finally looked like the NFL quarterback many people think he'll soon be.

"Matthew is really maturing," Richt said. "He's standing in there when everything is flying around him, and focusing downfield and throwing strikes. That is the way he is going to make Georgia better, and that is the way he is going to make a living for many years to come."

Moreno will be making a lot of money in the NFL very soon, too. He ran 21 times for 163 yards against LSU, a week after running for 172 in a 24-14 win over Vanderbilt. Against LSU, Moreno had a 47-yard run to set up the Bulldogs' third touchdown and a 68-yard scoring burst that made it 38-17 late in the third quarter.

Georgia's offense had seven plays of 20 yards or longer.

Georgia's defense will certainly have to play better against Florida than it did against LSU. Tigers tailback Charles Scott ran 21 times for 144 yards with two touchdowns, becoming the first player to run for 100 yards or more against the Bulldogs this season.

Lee threw for 287 yards with three touchdowns, and the Bulldogs didn't tackle very well. But Georgia intercepted Lee three times, and Gamble returned two of them for touchdowns. Gamble, who started in place of injured senior Dannell Ellerbe, is only the fifth linebacker in NCAA history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game.

"This game just gives us confidence going against a team that is similar as far as speed and has athletes all over the field like LSU does," Allen said.

The Bulldogs certainly looked comfortable on the road. They are now 28-4 in opponents' stadiums, including 10-2 against ranked foes, under Richt since 2001. Maybe the Bulldogs should just play Florida in Gainesville every other year.

Regardless of where the game is played, Georgia figures to be walking into a hornet's nest next weekend.

And don't be surprised if the Bulldogs have something else up their sleeves for the Gators.

"The seniors came up with something new -- something we've never done before," Gamble said, while declining to provide specifics to reporters.

Actually beating the Gators two years in a row -- a feat the Bulldogs haven't accomplished since 1988-89 -- would certainly seem unique.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.