Gibson Drives the Dawgs

ATHENS -- Mark Richt and David Greene, whose hands steer Georgia's offense off the field and on, believe two things make for good offensive football -- matchups and momentum.

Wide receiver Fred Gibson is the most valuable Bulldog in both of those categories, which explains why Mark Richt and David Greene are so eager for Gibson to return to the field Saturday when No. 4 Georgia faces No. 23 Florida.

"Fred's been our best playmaker for two seasons," said Greene, who has won 17 consecutive games when Gibson is in the starting lineup. "Having him out there gives the offense a lot of confidence. He can change the momentum of the game with just one play."

The only two games the Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 SEC) have lost since the beginning of 2002, Florida last year and LSU this year, Gibson wasn't in the starting lineup due to injury. Last year, it was a sprained thumb. This season, he has struggled with a pulled hamstring and a bruised knee, but he is expected to return today.

The junior has played in five games and in two of those had to leave after his first catch. He has missed three of the last five games and hasn't gained more than 32 receiving yards since the first game of the season.

"It's been frustrating. I've been kind of depressed," he said. "You're used to going out and playing football every Saturday. You don't want to talk on the phone, you don't want to see anybody. I'm just happy I'm getting back on the field."

Gibson had 43 catches for 758 yards last season and was expecting a breakout season this year with Terrence Edwards gone, but he has just 16 catches for 248 yards so far.

His absence has been frustrating for Georgia's coaches, too. Against LSU, as the Tigers brought blitz after blitz after blitz and played man coverage in the secondary, Richt couldn't help but think what would have happened had Gibson been on the field.

"He's a playmaker, no doubt," Richt said. "You've always got a pretty good chance with him in any one-on-one situation."

Not having Gibson on the field isn't the only problem. Not knowing if he's going to be on the field is also a hindrance when it comes to game-planning.

"You can't try to build things around him because of (that). Last season we were able to build a couple things to try to take advantage of his skills. This year you can't do that," wide receivers coach John Eason said. Plus "just his presence on the field is a mental lift for the guys."

Gibson wants to return Saturday simply because he likes to play, not because he feels any burning desire to beat the Gators (5-3, 3-2), Georgia's long-time nemesis. Gibson verbally committed to former Florida coach Steve Spurrier in 2001 and stuck with that commitment until 48 hours before signing day.

"Coach Spurrier was pretty mad at me," Gibson said. "He thought I was getting special benefits. It was a crazy situation at the time."

A gut feeling, not under-the-table funds, actually steered Gibson to Athens, he said.

"I woke up that day feeling good about Georgia so I was like, 'OK I'll go to Georgia,'" he said.

Gibson grew up in Waycross, about 100 miles from Florida's campus, and was a Gator fan from birth.

"That's the team I loved," he said. "My whole life I wanted to be a Florida Gator. I still like the Gators. I'm just here now. I don't hate Florida. I just want to win."

The Bulldogs will take a big step in that direction when Gibson walks onto the field Saturday.

Name: Fred Gibson
Size/Class: 6-foot-4, 200 pounds/Junior
Major: Arts and sciences
High School: Ware County
High school honors: Consensus all-state selection .. caught 50 passes for 1,000 yards as senior ... standout basketball player who played for prestigious Georgia Stars AAU team. 
College honors: All-SEC freshman team ... second in school record book with seven 100-plus yard receiving games ... Gave up basketball this year to concentrate on football
FYI: Gibson said he hasn't given much thought to turning pro after this season. At 6-foot-4 with his speed, he would be a high draft pick despite his disappointing season, and he hasn't ruled out the option, he said this week.

Gibson Game-by-Game
Game Rec./Yards Result
Clemson 4/104 30-0 win
MTSU 5/81 29-10 win
South Carolina 1/19 31-7 win
LSU DNP 17-10 loss
Alabama 5/32 37-23 win
Tennessee 1/12 41-14 win
Vanderbilt DNP 27-8 win
UAB DNP 16-13 win

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