With South Carolina’s upset win at Missouri, Georgia finds itself back in the SEC East title hunt.
But there is plenty of motivation for the Bulldogs to get back on track this week. Georgia will face rival Florida today in Jacksonville and look to extend its win streak in the series to three straight games.
“If you can’t get excited about playing Florida in that venue, you shouldn’t be a Bulldog, period,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I think we all understand that. I think everybody is going to get their blood pumping for that.”
After back-to-back losses against Missouri and Vanderbilt, Georgia spent the bye week trying to get healthy and iron out some of its special teams issues. The Bulldogs (4-3, 3-2 SEC) should get a spark with the return of sophomore running back Todd Gurley, who has sat out Georgia’s last three games with a sprained ankle.
With Gurley out, Georgia went 1-2 and needed a Marshall Morgan field goal in overtime against Tennessee to avoid a three-game losing streak.
Even with Gurley expected back, Richt is concerned about facing a Florida defense that ranks first in the SEC in total defense at 273.1 yards per game.
“Florida’s going to play great defense and great special teams,” Richt said. “Their offense is going to pound the football. They want to control the clock and win the turnover battle. That type of attitude is what I’ve seen coming into those games.”
Like Georgia, Florida (4-3, 3-2 SEC) is coming off a bye after a two-game losing streak. South Carolina’s win reinvigorated hopes for both the Bulldogs and Gators.
“Both of us, like I said early on, are just fighting like mad to stay in the race,” Richt said. “With another loss, I don’t know if mathematically or not it knocks us out, but it’d be pretty tough.”
Georgia’s two straight wins against the Gators should give the Bulldogs some added confidence heading into the matchup. With a win, Georgia can get back on track towards its goal of reaching the SEC title game for the third straight year. Missouri’s overtime loss to South Carolina could serve as the turning point to Georgia’s season, if the Bulldogs take advantage of it with a win over the Gators.
“I think it definitely helped a little and gave us some more hope, but I always had hope,” Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “We still have to do what we have to do and go out there and take care of our business.”
Richt is 4-8 against Florida, but has won the last two meetings against current Florda coach Will Muschamp. Muschamp was a former walk-on safety and team captain at Georgia.
“He’s a guy we know is a former player at Georgia and someone I have gotten to know over the years,” Richt said. “I have a lot of respect for him and what he does.”
—The Florida-Georgia game is important not just for bragging rights, but for recruiting as well. There will be plenty of familiarity on the field on Saturday due to the high number of players from the state of Florida playing for Georgia, and vice-versa.
“Somebody said that we had about 20 Florida guys on our team, and they have 19 Georgia guys on their team,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That’s going to happen. They’ve got too many players in their state, as far as they have more than they can gather up, and we’re the same way in our state. Obviously guys are going to cross those boundaries and there are a lot of different factors that go into it. A lot of it has to do with playing time or what they grew up thinking. There are so many things, and there’s a lot of those battles every year.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
—QB Aaron Murray is 2-1 in his career as a starter against rival Florida. The Tampa native grew up a Gator fan, but fell in love with the Georgia campus during a recruiting visit. Murray has put together another strong season for Georgia, averaging 276.9 yards per game with 17 TDs and 6 interceptions.
—RB Todd Gurley is expected back after sitting out Georgia’s last three games with an ankle sprain. Gurley was averaging 112.5 yards per game with 4 TDs at the time of his injury. The sophomore tailback had a big game against the rival Gators last season, rushing for 118 yards and a TD last season.
—LB Ramik Wilson is thankful for the opportunity to play against Florida. A Tampa native, Wilson was initially flagged for targeting in the fourth quarter of Georgia’s 31-27 loss to Vanderbilt. But the call was overturned on replay. Had the call stood up, Wilson would have been forced to sit out the first half against Florida. Wilson has made a big impact for the Georgia defense this season with a team-high 69 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
—DE Ray Drew could have another big game rushing the passer against Florida’s suspect offensive line. Drew has a team-high five sacks, six tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries. The third-year junior is finally starting to figure things out after a disappointing first two seasons on campus.
SERIES HISTORY: Georgia leads Florida 48-40-2 (Last meeting, 2012, Georgia 17-9)
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s great to see him out there. Not only is he an impact player but he’s also the spark of our offense. He’s a motivation to keep us working and he’s that clown who’s going to put a smile on your face. So it’s great not only having him there as a running back but having him out there as a leader, I would say.” — Georgia fullback Quayvon Hicks, on the return of Georgia tailback Todd Gurley.
Scouting the running game: Georgia’s running game should get a boost with the return of Gurley, who is physical enough and quick enough to take advantage of open holes in the running game. “He’s a guy that usually if you block for zero yards, he gets about two or three. If you block for three or four, he gets about seven or eight. If you block it just right, anything can happen,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. The Bulldogs are averaging 192.1 yards per game on the ground this season at 4.9 yards per carry.
Scouting the passing game: Georgia’s passing game should get a boost with the return of WR Michael Bennett. Georgia coach Mark Richt admitted the Bulldogs should have taken a few more shots downfield against Vanderbilt, so expect the Bulldogs to air it out for a few plays against the Gators. Georgia’s offensive line has done a decent job protecting QB Aaron Murray, allowing just nine sacks in seven games.
Scouting the run defense: Georgia has been solid against the run this season, allowing 136.7 yards per game on 3.7 yards per carry. But the Bulldogs have also allowed 15 rushing touchdowns this season. Linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera will need to be at their best against a Florida offensive that will be looking to establish the run first.
Scouting the pass defense: Georgia is getting a better pass rush, which is helping its young secondary continue to develop. Freshman CB Shaq Wiggins has been a bright spot in an otherwise shaky secondary. For the season, Georgia ranks 10th in the SEC in pass defense, giving up 253.4 yards per game.
Scouting the special teams: Richt said that Nathan Theus and Ty Frix are competing at the long-snapper spot. “I would say Theus is going to be the extra point and field goal guy, but him and Frix have been competing every day,” Richt said. “We’ve got some drills that we’re doing that we’re charting off to the side, but most of our thoughts are on the live drills. We’re judging it all. We’ll make a decision not necessarily based 100 percent on the stats but on a combination of the stats and our gut.” A long snap by Frix over the head of Georgia P Collin Barber doomed the Bulldogs in a 31-27 loss vs. Vanderbilt. Georgia also needs its kick coverage teams to play well against dangerous Florida KR Solomon Patton. PK Marshall Morgan (10-of-12) has been a bright spot on Georgia’s special teams.