JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida woke up with a good kind of hangover Sunday - the kind that comes after a season-saving victory.
The Gators defeated Georgia 20-13 in the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" Saturday night. Now, instead of thinking about a trip to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl, they're square in the running for a trip to Atlanta for a better engagement -the Southeastern Conference title game.
The Gators (6-3, 4-2) found their way back in The Associated Press poll - at No. 23 - for the first time since their inglorious exit three weeks ago. Maybe most importantly, they proved that they don't call Florida "Receiver U" for nothing.
In a turn that could have ruined Florida's morale, let alone its season, leading receiver Taylor Jacobs went out with a knee injury on the first series. As it turned out, it opened the door for a couple of unsung reserves - Carlos Perez and Kelvin Kight - to shine.
Perez had 12 catches for 76 yards and Kight caught nine for 115 yards. Add eight catches, including two for touchdowns, from tight ends Aaron Walker and Ben Troupe, and suddenly, Florida's season-long quest for a good complement to Jacobs was complete.
"That's what's going to have to happen," coach Ron Zook said. "I think it's a tribute to them. Sometimes, guys get forced into that situation. They're forced to play. Other times they kind of sit around and think, 'Don't worry, Taylor's going to get the ball.' I think it's going to raise everybody's level of play."
Zook said Jacobs would probably miss two-to-four weeks because of the injury - a concern, indeed, but not nearly as great because of all the pass catchers the Gators found to replace him.
"These guys know they're talented," said receivers coach Dwayne Dixon, one of the few coaching holdovers from Steve Spurrier's staff. "We've just got to continue to see who our ballplayers are, and give them the opportunity to win."
Suddenly, the Gators need to win - for more than just pride.
They are one game behind No. 7 Georgia (8-1, 5-1) in the SEC East, and they own the tiebreaker. That means if Florida beats Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and Georgia loses once, to Ole Miss or Auburn, the Gators would unexpectedly find themselves in the SEC title game.
Zook won't allow a lot of scoreboard watching the next two weeks.
"We have to make sure we take care of our business," he said. "If you start focusing or changing their focus to something else, then you get smacked in the face."
Because of his team's uneven play this season, and maybe simply because he isn't Spurrier, Zook has come under intense scrutiny from Florida fans and the media.
The coach insists he never second-guessed himself. Now, he has a victory in the rivalry Spurrier always deemed most important. The Gators have won 12 of the last 13 against the Bulldogs.
"I think our players are gaining confidence from the things they've gone through," Zook said. "You stay the course, you keep working, you keep pressing, you keep your nose to the grindstone, and you know you're going to work through these things."
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