After a short hiatus from Georgia Football last Saturday, we now turn down the home stretch of the season toward Lexington, Atlanta and a hopeful destination in the January College Football Playoff, but more presently, toward Jacksonville and that yearly rite of fall: the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
This weekend, the Dawgs and Gators meet down on the St. John’s for the 88th-consecutive renewal of their 110-year-old rivalry – a matchup that, year-to-year, has produced some of the greatest moments in either program’s history.
That’s particularly true for Georgia. The classic games and highlights come by the dozen when you look back over the series history. But there have been plenty of them to take place as recently as the last three years – the first period in which the Dawgs have beaten the Gators three seasons in a row since Jimmy Carter was president.
2011 saw Georgia pick up just its fourth win over Florida in 22 years – a four-point decision that came thanks to two fourth-down conversions and some inspired running by Richard Samuel in the fourth quarter. In 2012, Jarvis Jones and the Georgia defense stepped up to force six turnovers and silence their critics, while a freshman Todd Gurley rushed for 118 yards to vault the Dawgs over the Gators 17-9. Then just last year, Gurley returned from injury to rip off 187 all-purpose yards and carry the load on a game-ending drive that swallowed nearly half of the fourth quarter, allowing Georgia to hang on and win 23-20.
Saturday’s game sets up to be another memorable one, if only for its implications in the Dawgs’ hunt for the division, conference and national championships. Beating Florida would put them a step closer to running the table and getting back to Atlanta for a shot at redemption after an SEC title so narrowly escaped them two years ago.
More than that, this is an opportunity for Georgia to make it four straight wins over their most hated rival, and that’d be the first time that’s happened since 1983. A win Saturday would virtually turn the tide on nearly three decades of dominance by Florida in the rivalry series. A four-game win streak would signal a return to the position of superiority on the field, in the conference landscape, on the recruiting trail, and most importantly, in the department of bragging rights.
And the last two seasons haven’t been much to boast about for Gator fans.
It’s been well-documented that Florida is a program in dire straits. At 3-3 on the year (7-11 since 2013), they’re fighting to maintain relevance under Will Muschamp, whose job is clearly in danger as the Gators’ season rapidly goes south.
That, and the way Florida has played in a lot of games this year would make you think this’ll be one that the Dawgs run away with. And although we’re due for a woodshed game sooner or later, Georgia very rarely beats the Gators in Jacksonville by more than a few.
And what hope the Dawgs had of hanging half a hundred on the scoreboard Saturday was dealt a major blow Wednesday when the NCAA announced Todd Gurley will be suspended for an additional pair of games beyond the two he’s already sat out in penance for accepting thousands of dollars in a memorabilia scandal. Now, barring a successful appeal of the suspension, he’ll also miss the Florida and Kentucky games and be slotted for a November 15th return in a home matchup against Auburn.
After the Dawgs’ offense dazzled in two games without their Heisman contender, many would argue they can make it in this game without him. But let’s remember how his role against Florida the last two seasons was probably a deciding factor between a win and a loss.
Without Gurley’s transcendent play, Georgia probably doesn’t have the offensive efficiency to win in 2012, nor does he help create the early lead that kept them in control of the game last year. His contributions will be dearly missed.
But one guy the Dawgs also didn’t have either of those years was Nick Chubb, an All-American back in the making who’s gotten better and better each week as the new go-to in the Georgia offense. He will undoubtedly continue to provide the offensive horsepower that fueled solid wins over Arkansas and Mizzou. The Dawgs will definitely need it.
Florida provides probably the stiffest defensive test this offense has seen the entire season. I guess that’s really not saying much seeing how Georgia has shredded the defenses that were previously given that label, like Missouri, Arkansas and South Carolina. Still, for what it’s worth, the Gator’s D is one of the best in the conference, and in the country. They’ve allowed the second-least yardage total of any team in college football this year, and are 12th in the nation in average yardage allowed per game. Featuring a shutdown corner and future pro in Vernon Hargreaves, they have guys who can make plays on that side of the ball.
Too bad their offense is in such dreadful shape. Nothing good has really happened for the Gators with the ball in their possession this year, mainly because they can’t manage to keep the ball in their possession. They turn it over a lot. Between quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris, Florida has thrown 11 interceptions this year (the 10th most in the country). They’ve also lost a whopping five fumbles.
They gave up three turnovers apiece in their losses to Alabama and LSU, and turned it over six times against Missouri. Georgia can only hope to get that kind of help from the opposition on Saturday.
Key to a winning effort is converting those turnovers when they happen. The Gators aren’t likely to give up many big plays or long drives, unless they simply come unglued. The Dawgs need to focus on pounding away offensively and then make them pay for those mistakes.
One thing Georgia can’t do is let Florida hang around. That nearly came back to bite them last year, and it will do the same this year if Mark Richt and Mike Bobo don’t keep their foot on the gas. The Gators may be a tired, demoralized team, but they still have some fight in them – fight to prove themselves to their doubters and fight to win for their beleaguered head coach.
Dangle a chance out there, and they’ll grab it.
But duplicate the dominant performances we saw in the last two weeks, and Florida will have no chance.
The Prediction: Georgia 35, Florida 13
If you’re a Dawg fan, Georgia-Florida is one of the best college football weekends out of the year. Enjoy it, whether that’s from your living room or a tailgate around EverBank Field. To those headed to Jacksonville and the coast for the weekend: Have fun. Be Safe. And bring back another win.
(Written by Mr. Clay Reynolds. Clay is a senior at UGA, majoring in Journalism, who has painted with the Paint Line as an alternate in the past. As a passionate Dawg fan and sports enthusiast Clay has graciously stepped up this year as our resident writer! Thank you Clay!)