GAINESVILLE, Fla. — There’s a rumor going around that Florida defenders had to do 188 push-ups a day during offseason conditioning workouts, one for every yard Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno gained against the Gators last season.
“No comment,” linebacker Brandon Spikes said when asked about the routine.
If it’s true, imagine the punishment Florida’s offensive line suffered after allowing Tim Tebow to get sacked six times in the 42-30 loss.
Although the game will be remembered for the Bulldogs’ brash end-zone celebration, the outcome was more directly related to how the longtime Southeastern Conference rivals handled each other’s star. It could be key again Saturday in Jacksonville, when the No. 8 Bulldogs and No. 5 Gators meet in another high-stakes showdown.
Trying to protect a bruised, non-throwing shoulder, Tebow was sacked a career-high six times, never got the offense going and finished with 221 yards of total offense. It was one of the worst games of his career.
“I think we rattled Tim Tebow and the offense,” Georgia defensive lineman Geno Atkins said. “We wanted to pressure him. No one really works that well under pressure, not even the greatest quarterbacks. You put a little pressure on them, they’re bound to flinch.
“He was a little shaken up by that. He was almost untouchable last year, but we were able to get back there.”
Tebow injured his right shoulder the previous week at Kentucky and received a painkilling shot before facing the Bulldogs. As a result, he was hesitant to run, often staying in the pocket too long, and struggled to find open receivers.
He looked nothing like the guy who ran roughshod over opponents most of the year.
“He’s not limited now,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s got that Tebow look. I love that Tebow look.”
Tebow had a much different look after that game. He fought back tears trying to explain the loss, knowing the Gators were essentially done in the SEC East race. Making matters worse, it happened in his hometown and in front of hundreds of friends and family members.
Tebow vowed to be better this season, and although he hasn’t put up the gaudy number he had en route to becoming the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, he still leads the conference in pass efficiency and ranks second in total offense.
He has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,415 yards, with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has 82 carries for 227 yards and five scores.
“Tim Tebow does a great job of running the show,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He probably felt in the past that he had to carry the team a little bit more than he does this year. He has tremendous support.”
Moreno hasn’t needed much support.
The sophomore has three straight 100-yard rushing games, including a combined 335 yards the last two weeks against Vanderbilt and LSU.
He was even better last year against Florida, running for a career-high 188 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bulldogs established Moreno early, running him eight times in nine plays during their first drive — the one that ended with his 1-yard touchdown that set off the contentious celebration in the end zone.
He was just getting started, too. Moreno ran around, through and even jumped over Florida defenders, wearing them out with each of his 33 carries. He seemed to play with more passion and enthusiasm than anyone wearing orange and blue.
“Just a sensational player,” Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney said. “One of the best in all of college football. That’s not any overstatement, believe me. ... He’s as good as I’ve ever coached against or had on my team or any team I’ve been on.
“He’s great for the game of college football when you don’t have to try to tackle him like we do this week.”
The Gators (6-1, 4-1) have been much better against the run this season. They held LSU’s Charles Scott to 35 yards on 12 carries and were just as good against Tennessee’s Arian Foster (14 carries, 37 yards).
“We haven’t played our best game yet,” Spikes said. “If we play great up front, I think we’ll win this ball game.”
But everyone agrees that Moreno present a much tougher challenge because of his combination of size, strength, speed and elusiveness. He has 925 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns for Georgia (7-1, 4-1) and is averaging 6.2 yards a carry.
“It’s hard to describe what makes him good,” Richt said. “I think No. 1, he’s got a competitive spirit that just doesn’t allow him to like to get tackled, doesn’t allow him to do anything other than play and practice at full speed. He’s got great balance. He can make people miss in a very small space. He’s got spin moves. He can jump over people. He’s got pretty good game speed. He likes to finish the runs with power. He’s a pretty special back.”
The Gators saw that firsthand last year and know they have to do a better job against him Saturday.
If not, it could mean more push-ups.