Georgia is on a roll, and Florida isn’t. The Gators (3-3, 2-3 SEC) are still not technically eliminated from the SEC Championship race, but they will have to win out the remainder of their games. Beating Georgia as a 13-point underdog will be difficult enough, but winning any remaining SEC game is no guarantee right now for Florida. When we last saw the Gators, Missouri was busy thrashing them 42-13 thanks to special teams disasters all over the place. Will Muschamp’s job appears safe until kickoff of the Cocktail Party… after that all bets are off.
Meanwhile, Georgia kept rolling along. Only a now puzzling three-point loss at South Carolina stains the Dawgs’ resume. But Georgia’s old foe Florida has always been a spur in the side. The Gators are the only team in the SEC East Mark Richt has a losing record to as a head coach (5-8). Even though the two programs have split the last ten contests, with the Dawgs winning the last three, the game in Jacksonville has always been a tricky one for Georgia under Richt. Florida has played well - even in losses - virtually every game of the last last 13 matchups. An upset is hardly out of the question as the Gators have upset a Richt-led Georgia team twice - although that was more than a decade ago (2002 and 2003).
This game is critical to Georgia’s season. It is critical to Muschamp’s future. Georgia hasn’t been favored over the Gators by this many points since the 1980s. In fact, the 13-point line, as it stands right now, is second-largest spread (2009) in the series since 2006 when Florida pulled away late for a 21-14 win. Also, this is the first time Georgia has been a double-digit favorite over UF since the SEC split into divisions more than 20 years ago. The Gators have been double-digit favorites nine times over Georgia since that time.
What We Know
Treon Harris will start for Florida in Jacksonville. Will Muschamp broadcast that for the world to know more than ten days before the Dawgs traveled south to fight the Gators. Harris didn’t play against LSU due to an indefinite suspension after being accused of sexually assaulting a female student in early October. Charges were never filed, and after sitting out that game, a painful last-minute loss to LSU, Harris returned to the field, only in mop-up duty during the blowout loss to Missouri.
His stats this season: 12 for 18 for 263 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Harris is a bit of an unknown, frankly. All but three of his passing attempts have come in the second half and ten have come with Florida getting blown out.
But something had to happen. Jeff Driskel was a turnover machine. The Gators, who are limited in terms of scoring the ball (12th of 14 teams averaging 28.7 ppg, but scoring only 21.4 ppg in SEC games), had to do something to jumpstart the offense.
That will be Harris’ job - holding onto the ball and understanding that it is OK to punt. Florida has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. The Gators have only scored nine rushing touchdowns. It's just been plain difficult to score for Florida - a lot because of the turnovers.
What We Think We Know
Todd Gurley will play vs. the Gators. Not that he’s been cleared… yet, but there’s no reason to expect Gurley will miss the Cocktail Party this Saturday. Georgia was careful, and now they await word from on high that Gurley will be allowed to play. Getting the North Carolina native back will be big news, too, for the Dawgs. Gurley has been a one-man wrecking crew against the Gators over the last two years. His numbers? Rushing: 44 carries for 218 yards with 2 TDs, receiving: 5 catches for 100 yards with a touchdown.
That’s not a lot of fun for the Gators right there.
What We Think We Know.
Georgia’s defense has gotten it together. Moving Damian Swann to the star spot seems to have made all of the difference in the world for Jeremy Pruitt and his staff. This improvement may have just been a matter of time. After all, Georgia ditched one defensive philosophy after the 38-35 loss to South Carolina. They’ve also moved some players, including Swann, around. The results speak for themselves. In the last five games the Bulldogs are allowing 16.2 ppg and have had two shutouts. Few defenses in the SEC - Alabama and Ole Miss probably - are playing at the same level as the Georgia defense lately. But the Bulldogs are doing what many others are not - they are getting their hands on the ball, and in some cases, scoring as a result.
Georgia leads the SEC in turnover margin with +13 total and +1.86 per game. Ole Miss is taking the ball away more, but as Saturday night’s loss in Death Valley was painfully obvious to see, the Rebels are giving the ball away, too (sometimes at terminal parts of the game). The point is that Georgia’s defense has stepped up in a big way, and they are playing with a massive amount of confidence right now. They are level-headed but explosive with the ball in sight… it's a deadly combination these days.
What We Think We Know
Georgia doesn’t have an answer for Peach County native Demarcus Robinson, who is second in the SEC right now with 87 yards per game. He’s also got four touchdowns. Alabama’s Amari Cooper is the best WR in the SEC, but Robinson has been very productive for the Gators this fall. In an offense that can’t depend on anything but being undependable, the Gators have something in Robinson.
What We Think We Know
Will Muschamp is coaching for his job, and you will be able to tell on Saturday. It might not have been as obvious, but in 2011 Mark Richt was in the same boat as Muschamp. The outrage wasn’t the same at the time, and the media pot wasn’t boiling over, but Richt needed to win against the Gators in 2011 or his career in Athens may well have been over. His team, which got down 17-3, fought the entire night to finally win 24-20 over the Gators in a game that propelled Georgia to the 2011 SEC East Championship.
The way I see it Muschamp, at a minimum, has to have a win over Georgia in order to save his job. I’m not sure that’s even a guarantee, but running the table (with wins over highly-favored Georgia and Florida State) is probably the only way Muschamp will be back on the sidelines in Gainesville next fall. Again, I’m not even sure that will be the case.
The Gators sure do seem broken. The fans are pissed - thus the “Fire Muschamp” chants two Saturdays ago. But make no mistake - nothing gets the Gator faithful more excited than the notion of beating the Bulldogs. Muschamp may not be their man, but when the boys are out there in blue tops are playing the boys in red tops, Florida fans are going to forcefully be behind the Gators.
Expect Florida’s biggest punch on Saturday night, if for no other reason than it's the Cocktail Party.
What We Don’t Know.
What it's like to see Georgia beat Florida four games in a row. The last time that happened Georgia was in the midst of winning the SEC Championship three years in a row. That was 1980-1983 - it was the time of Herschel Walker and Vince Dooley. Georgia has only beaten the Gators three times in a row twice since (1987-89 and 2011-13). So this, amazingly, is a historic high-water mark in the last 30 years for the Dawgs in this classic. Winning a fourth game in a row, which should happen, would be a pretty big deal in Athens and Gainesville.
What We Don’t Know
We don’t know how weird it is going to be for both Georgia and the Gators to run out of the tunnels with home jerseys on for the first time ever. Move over USC and UCLA - here comes the Cocktail Party. For decades the Trojans and Bruins played one another in home jerseys. That tradition went away, but recently the Southern California classic is back to home gear for both schools. Now Georgia and Florida will join that tandem to make the Cocktail Party even more full of color. Actually Georgia and Georgia Tech now both wear home jerseys no matter the location of the game, but that’s because (like LSU) the Jackets wear their traditional white home jerseys every time they play home or away. That’s not the case with the Dawgs and Gators. Georgia will now wear home jerseys every year in two of its three rivalry games.
For decades the Dawgs and Gators rotated which team was the home team in neutral Jacksonville. The home program was responsible for nearly all of the traditional home-team duties in the rivalry - including things like selling the game program along with wearing their home jerseys on the field.
But over time, many things have changed. The old Gator Bowl and its staff, which was always clad in blue and orange outfits, are gone. The metal and chain link of the old Gator Bowl is gone. It has been replaced by a modern NFL stadium experience - even with a pool! Florida’s sports information department handles the press, and the teams alternate the side of the stadium on which they sit, but otherwise the Georgia-Florida game will look pretty much the same on the field every single season from here on out.
The Gator Bowl may be gone, but the hate isn’t. We are just going to see even more color on the field. For the record Georgia, which will be in red from here on out, is the home team this year.