Setting a school record with 201 yards receiving on nine catches, Gibson scored on touchdown bombs of 68 and 56 yards as Georgia rallied from an early deficit to overpower Kentucky 43-29 Saturday at Sanford Stadium. Gibson, a former standout at Ware County High School, originally said he would play for Florida. On the day before signing day, however, he and high school teammate Gerald Anderson, a defensive tackle, announced their decision to sign with the Bulldogs.
Gibson's talent was obvious from the first day of freshman practice, but he did not have a catch until Georgia's big win over Tennessee on Oct. 6. Since then, the 6-foot-4 freshman has assumed a bigger role in the Georgia offense every week and was without doubt the difference in the win over Kentucky as No. 17 Georgia improved to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference. In the closing minutes, Georgia fans in the sellout crowd of 86,520 chanted "Fred-dy! Fred-dy!''
Said Richt: "We would not win this game without Fred, it's pretty evident. ... Fred Gibson can be as good as he wants to be. He can be as good as anybody in the nation. He's got great ability. He also has a great attitude.'' Said Kentucky defensive coordinator John Goodner: "If there's a better (receiver) than him, I don't know if I've seen him.''
Gibson said Saturday he chose Georgia over Florida because "it felt like home. ... Georgia was just the best fit for me.''
Gibson will be in the spotlight when Georgia plays No. 7 Florida next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Jacksonville — only about an hour from his home in Waycross, Ga.
"I want to see what kind of wide receiver I am; I want to see what I'm made of against (Florida's) defensive backs,'' Gibson said.
Against Kentucky's defensive backs, Gibson was unstoppable, breaking a receiving record that lasted 59 years. In 1942, Lamar "Racehorse'' Davis had 198 receiving yards against Cincinnati.
|Freshman RB Mike Gilliam takes it around the right side. (Photo: Dean Legge)|
With 106 yards receiving on six catches in last week's win at Vanderbilt, Gibson's two-game total of 307 yards was two yards shy of Hines Ward's 309 yards in two games against Auburn and Ole Miss in 1996.
"Fred just keeps getting better,'' said Georgia quarterback David Greene, who set career highs with 364 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Georgia was without leading rusher Musa Smith, who has a groin injury. His status for the Florida game will be evaluated early in the week.
With Smith out, fullback Verron Haynes rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries and also caught three passes for 73 yards
Jasper Sanks added 70 yards rushing on 20 carries and was especially effective as Georgia worked the clock late in the game.
Greene completed 22 of 36 passes, but the redshirt freshman and the Bulldogs had to overcome adversity in the first half.
Greene lost a fumble and threw an interception in the first half, and his interception helped set up a touchdown that gave Kentucky a 22-7 lead with 7:04 left in the half.
With 275-pound Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen throwing accurate passes and proving even more difficult to tackle, the lead looked imposing — for about three plays.
Georgia answered with a three-play scoring drive capped by Greene's 68-yard touchdown pass to Gibson. Georgia used that play and three forced turnovers in the second half to take momentum from Kentucky (1-6 overall, 0-5 SEC). Richt this week called for an improved turnover ratio, and Jermaine Phillips answered the call. Phillips, a senior safety, delivered the first takeaway with an interception with 1:48 left to play in the third quarter and the game tied at 29-29.
With the game still tied, freshman defensive end Robert Geathers added a second interception early in the fourth quarter, setting up Gibson's 56-yard touchdown pass.
Perhaps the biggest turnover came midway through the fourth quarter. Kentucky's Derek Abney caught a pass inside the Georgia 10 but fumbled when hit by Phillips.
Safety Terreal Bierria recovered for Georgia, and the Bulldogs then held the ball for 16 plays and more than seven minutes to almost completely run out the clock.
While Gibson was the difference for Georgia, the Bulldogs' defense was relieved to have survived the matchup with Lorenzen, who rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown and completed 32 of 54 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, Lorenzen passed for 528 yards — the most ever for a Georgia opponent — in a 34-30 loss to Georgia.
|Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen was very impressive running the ball. (Photo: Dean Legge)|
"It was like chasing an elephant on an African safari,'' said defensive end Josh Mallard.
"It's frustrating when you have one of your biggest guys bouncing off of him like a pinball machine.''
Despite the Lorenzen factor, however, Mallard said Georgia never panicked, even when down 22-7.
"When a team is better than you, you know it from the start,'' Mallard said. "Today we never felt like we were losing. We kept our composure.''
For Richt, the demonstration of maturity under pressure may be the best sign for a team trying to win the SEC East.
"I told the guys, you better be ready for a war, because if you're not and it turns into a game like that, you're going to faint,'' Richt said. "The good news was we didn't faint. ... I know we were tired on both sides of the ball. It was a gut-check kind of game.''
Added Richt: "The kids wouldn't quit. So far, that's been the M.O. of this team: They won't give up.''