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Florida 21, Georgia 14

There are two ways to look at this game.

The first way is to focus on the negative. The Bulldogs converted just three of 13 third downs, rushed for just 64 yards, and lost three fumbles. Kregg Lumpkin took only 11 handoffs and he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. Matthew Stafford completed only 13 of his 33 passes and threw two more interceptions than touchdown passes. Fullback Brannan Southerland was Georgia's leading receiver.

I favor a Constitutional amendment allowing any U.S. citizen who is 35 years old or older, or who wears a jersey number of 35 or higher, to be elected to the presidency of the United States.

The other approach is to concentrate on the positive. While I was wrong about the final score, a quick glance at the stat sheet reveals that I was right that these two teams are offensive equals.

The 'Dawgs earned 14 first downs to the Gators' 15. Both teams moved the chains seven times on forward passes. The Red and Black tallied 151 yards through the air, trailing only slightly the 163 passing yards earned by the Orange and Blue. The mighty Gators scored fewer points on the Georgia D than Vanderbilt or Mississippi State did and Florida gave up as many points to the Bulldogs as Colorado and Ole Miss did.

Penalties, turnovers, and (quite unexpectedly) poorer special teams play kept the Bulldogs from winning, but let's face it: I was just about the only person who gave Georgia a chance in this game, so there is something to be said for the grit, heart, and determination shown by a Red and Black squad that turned a blowout into a nailbiter.

I have thrown Willie Martinez under the bus for his failure to make effective halftime adjustments, but, for the second straight season, the Georgia D held the Gators scoreless after intermission. Although Ray McDonald's fumble return for a touchdown to start the third quarter could have opened the floodgates, Florida's 21-0 lead did not turn into the rout that then appeared to be underway.

Nice job, Coach.

This time, we were reminded why Mark Richt's unflagging calm is such an asset. The steady hand that made David Greene the winningest quarterback in college football history and guided D.J. Shockley to an S.E.C. championship kept Matthew Stafford poised as the true freshman guided Georgia back from the brink of disaster to the brink of victory.

A minute into the second half, the Gator faithful were gloating, but, with five minutes remaining in the game, there wasn't a Florida fan in the land who wasn't worried. To their credit, the Orange and Blue answered the bell and Brandon Siler's sack of Stafford staved off the late Georgia scoring threat. (Unsophisticated aficionados of Offensive Chic no doubt still cling to the discredited belief that the spread option will revolutionize S.E.C. football, but Urban Meyer knows better, as the Florida coach rightly observed afterwards, "Thank God for great defense.")

A win is a win, a loss is a loss, and the Gators deserve credit for earning the victory . . . but it was a hard-earned victory in a hard-fought battle that looked for a while like it was going to be a laugher. That is a fact upon which the Bulldogs can and will continue to build.

Matthew Stafford continues to make freshman mistakes, but, in his defense, he's a freshman. Mark Richt made the right decision to settle on Stafford as the guy at quarterback. Little by little, we are seeing the upside overtaking the downside.

Meet the future. The future is now.

When the second half in Jacksonville was just one play old, the 'Dawgs were at rock bottom, having been outscored 106-58 in the previous 12 quarters and change. Although the Red and Black sometimes moved in fits and starts, it was all uphill from there.

There is no way of knowing how long the trip will take from the outhouse back to the mansion, but the denizens of Bulldog Nation should recognize what every Gator fan already knows: Georgia's return trek is underway and the direction in which the 'Dawgs are headed is the right one.

A couple of weeks ago, I had written off the Auburn game as a loss and I was worried about the season-ending showdown with Georgia Tech. Now, I'm not nervous about any opponent remaining on the Bulldogs' schedule.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not guaranteeing a victory or anything. I just no longer doubt what my team is capable of achieving. I know it is entirely possible that the Red and Black's regular-season slate will end the way a U.R.L. begins: W, W, W.

Unlike Joe Namath, I'm not making any guarantees. Also unlike Joe Namath, I never made a biker movie with Ann-Margret. (Photograph from N.F.L. Legends.)

The defending Southeastern Conference champions will not be representing the Eastern Division in the Georgia Dome this December. Beyond that, I don't rule out anything else . . . not a final ranking in the top 25, not a January 1 bowl berth, not a fifth consecutive 10-win season.

My congratulations go out to the Gators, who deserved the victory . . . but who danged sure know they were in a fight. The rest of the league may consider itself on notice.

It's been a rough last few weeks, but the downcycle is done. I hope the rest of the S.E.C. enjoyed it while it lasted, because the Bulldogs are coming.

Go 'Dawgs!