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Party fouls heat up at the 'Cocktail Party'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Between Georgia's end-zone celebration and Florida's last-minute timeouts, the game formerly known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" has been taken up a notch.

Some might even call them party fouls.

Regardless, the antics have given the storied rivalry a little extra juice and have everyone wondering what will happen Saturday when top-ranked Florida and Georgia meet for the 77th time.

The Gators (7-0, 5-0) can secure a spot in the SEC title game with a victory and a loss by South Carolina. The Bulldogs (4-3, 3-2) had two weeks to prepare — and a year to think about those taunting timeouts — and would like nothing more than to snap the longest winning streak in the nation (17 games) and put a damper on the Gators' chances of repeating as national champs.

"Any time you can give the No. 1 team its first loss in (18) games, I'd be comfortable with that," Bulldogs safety Bryan Evans said. "Ruining their national championship run, I would feel good about that as well."

Florida has refused to talk about the possibility of wrapping up the SEC East a month before the title game. Several players even insisted they didn't know how the league standings shaped up or that they could clinch the division with some help from Tennessee.

"You just go play the game as hard as you can, don't worry about anything else other than your assignments and getting your job done," coach Urban Meyer said. "If we worry about that kind of stuff, we'll probably lose."

Meyer said Florida has too many other concerns to even consider the SEC East as motivation.

The Gators have struggled to score inside the red zone in conference play, ending drives with fumbles, interceptions and missed field goals. Although turnovers are Florida's biggest culprit, Meyer has pointed to predictable play-calling, defensive pressure and quarterback Tim Tebow holding the ball too long as contributing factors inside the 20.

Meyer and his assistants spent all week working on possible solutions, including changes on the offensive line, different formations and maybe even less Tebow.

"We're going to diversify it a little bit," offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "We've evaluated it hard, we looked at it, we feel like what we're doing's good, but we really want to execute it at a much higher level. Steady the boat and pull right through it, and we will."

If not, the Gators could be in for another low-scoring affair.

Florida's last three wins have been by a combined 23 points, well below expectations for a team that opened the season talking about perfection.

Maybe this will be Florida's get-well game.                       

The Bulldogs have had their own issues, giving up more than 35 points to South Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee, and struggling to score in losses to Oklahoma State and LSU. Georgia is having a hard time running, an even tougher time stopping the run, and ranks next to last in the country with a turnover ratio of minus-11.

Nonetheless, beating Florida would be bigger than any potential bowl game.

"That would be awesome," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "That would be a testament to how hard our team has worked and what we came back from, how much resilience we have as a team. It would really send a statement to people not to forget about us, not to count us out."

Georgia has been counted out in this series for most of the last two decades, losing 16 of the last 19 games. One of the victories came two years ago, when the entire team stormed the field to celebrate its opening touchdown, drawing flags, sparking a 42-30 win and leaving Florida seething.

At the time, coach Mark Richt said he was merely looking for a way to fire up his team and never knew it would lead to such chaos. He issued a public apology to Florida and the SEC.

The Gators didn't forgive or forget. They plastered photos of the celebration all around their facility and counted down the days until the rematch.

"It's a sign of disrespect," Florida defensive tackle Terron Sanders said. "We always feel disrespected when you think back about that. We feel as if it was a slap in the face and we can't just let it be a one-year thing where we feel like we took care of it and we settled it. We always have to look back as a sign of disrespect and knowing there's a possibility somebody could come out and do the same thing too us."

Meyer brushed aside the celebration in public, but was clearly waiting for a chance to get back at the Bulldogs. With Georgia itching to get off the field in its second-worst loss ever to the Gators (49-10), Meyer called one timeout, then another, to prolong the misery.

The Bulldogs responded by placing photos of Meyer signaling timeout all around their facility. What effect will it have this year?

"It definitely motivates you," quarterback Joe Cox said. "No one likes to be embarrassed like that. But it's not like we've been planning some elaborate scheme to get at them back and do something better."