ATHENS — An extra week of practice hasn’t seemed to boost Mark Richt’s hopes of finding a way to contain Tim Tebow.
Georgia long has sought the open weekend it enjoyed last week before Saturday’s game against Florida in Jacksonville. But even with the extra practice time, there are no easy answers for the unique challenge posed by Tebow, the Gators’ dual-threat quarterback.
Richt said his Bulldogs have to defend Tebow as a runner and a passer out of multiple formations and personnel groupings.
"It takes a little more time to get a good handle, and then do you have the personnel who can match up?" asked Richt.
"Face it, Tebow hasn’t had much trouble against anyone they’ve played. You have to try to slow it down a little, but to think you’re going to stop it, that’s going to be tough."
While No. 20 Georgia (5-2 overall, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) was using its first off-week of the season to address injury concerns at tailback, Tebow suffered a bruised right (non-throwing) shoulder in No. 9 Florida’s 45-37 win at Kentucky.
Florida coach Urban Meyer said the injury may force him to limit Tebow’s runs against Georgia. That might help Georgia’s defense — but Richt and his coaching staff still have to prepare for Florida’s full package.
Tebow leads Florida with 578 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He has passed for 1,711 yards and 17 touchdowns — with only three interceptions.
Meyer said Florida needs Tebow to protect the shoulder and remain in the game, but the coach said he worries about losing the threat of his quarterback’s runs.
"When you take that away from Tim Tebow — not that he’s a normal quarterback — but he’s not what Tim Tebow is to our offense," Meyer said.
"The thing we all have to understand is we can’t get him hurt."
Richt said Tebow "is a freak of nature, really."
Tebow was regarded as a run-first threat last season when he played behind Chris Leak. Now that he’s a starter, he has proved his all-around skills by completing 66 percent of his passes.
"I’ve see quarterbacks who can run, but not with that kind of power and toughness," Richt said. "And he’s throwing the ball extremely well. He’s a leader, and he’s just tough. And that makes that whole football team tough."
Meanwhile, defenses also must watch Percy Harvin, Tebow’s favorite receiver and a dangerous runner with 232 yards rushing.
"That combo has been lethal to everyone they’ve played," Richt said.
Richt compared Harvin with Peter Warrick, one of his top receivers while Florida State’s offensive coordinator.
"Harvin is a mismatch for anyone trying to cover him one-on-one," Richt said. "As I watch Harvin, he reminds me of a very fast Peter Warrick. Warrick could catch the deep ball, get the quick screens and make people miss, and run all the routes and do it well. Pete had good speed, but Percy seems to me to be faster. He’s a great ballplayer."
Florida averages 40.4 points per game and has strong scoring balance with 19 rushing touchdowns and 17 scores through the air.
Georgia’s defense must worry about trying to contain Tebow and Harvin, but the offense also carries a heavier burden, especially after losing tailbacks Thomas Brown (collarbone) and Kregg Lumpkin (knee) to injuries.
Lumpkin can’t return before a bowl game. Brown has not been ruled out, but he downplayed his chances of returning this week. Redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno, who has been impressive but has never had to carry the full load, is expected to start at tailback.
Georgia and Florida (5-2 overall, 3-2 SEC) are two of five teams in the Eastern Division with two conference losses.
"It’s a wild year, isn’t it?" asked Richt. "I’m just taking this baby one at a time. I quit worrying about the other stuff. I’m worrying about who we have this time around. I’m done looking too far ahead into the future, at least this year."