Florida-Georgia renew their annual rivalry Saturday, only this time both teams enter with three losses for the first time in the last 34 games. The Bulldogs have the edge in the series at 49-40-2 overall, along with winning two straight for the first time since the late 80’s.
And thanks to South Carolina, who opened the door wide open for the Eastern division race, this game means more than it did a week ago.
Here’s what to watch for:
Who isn’t playing: As my esteemed colleague William Wallace said, the game should be played in Dr. James Andrews’ waiting room. The first thing you’ll notice is who isn’t playing Saturday, as both teams have been hammered by injuries throughout the season. Georgia RB Keith Marshall and WR Justin Scott-Wesley are definitely out, while Florida’s QB Jeff Driskel, DT Dominique Easley, RB Matt Jones and several others will also be absent. Georgia, however, is getting back RB Todd Gurley, who has missed the last three and a half games due to an ankle injury, and WR Michael Bennett, who has been shelved with a knee injury. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will be one big infirmary.
Changes: Will Muschamp said Florida’s offense will have some changes following the bye week. What will that entail? Three changes said to be made are inserting RB Kelvin Taylor into the starting lineup and getting him many more touches, and inserting OL Octavius Jackson in at guard and Trenton Brown at tackle, the unit that has let Florida down the most. Taylor and Jackson are true freshmen. Getting the ball in Solomon Patton’s hands is a must, along with attacking Georgia’s much-maligned defensive secondary. “We have to do what we do well,” Muschamp said. I’m trying to figure out what the Gators have done well on offense. There needs to be more shifts and motions, a token of Brent Pease’s offense when he was hired; we haven’t seen that since last season. Remember during Urban Meyer’s 2010 season the Gators added wrinkles on their offense following the bye week and won? This has to happen again.
Bad vs. Bad: In the SEC we love to talk about good vs. good, but in this case it’s bad vs. bad. Florida’s offense against Georgia’s defense will be a battle of the beaten. Which unit will step up? The thing Georgia’s struggles with the most is their secondary, but does Florida have the downfield passing game to take advantage of it? Let me rephrase the question – can Florida block Georgia’s linemen long enough to throw it downfield? Let’s not forget that both teams have really struggled on special teams this season, and special teams have cost Georgia at least two games already. Florida also benched their All-American punter Kyle Christy. Which team will make the fewest costly errors?
Related: Compare the SEC’s scoring defenses
Gurley returns: This could be the difference – RB Todd Gurley. Georgia is a different offense when Gurley is playing, and they get their bully back against Florida. All indications are that Gurley will start and play, and that’s a huge lift for a struggling offense hammered by injuries. The good news is that Georgia’s O-line, QB and RB are still intact, and ‘Feed Gurley’ will be on Mark Richt and Mike Bobo’s minds.
Job jeopardy: The two hot seat coaches aren’t the head coaches. Georgia DC Todd Grantham and Florida OC Brent Pease have been under fire this season. The Bulldogs are allowing opponents to score over 33 points per game, good for last in the SEC, while Pease’s offense is 12th in the SEC and scoring just 21.1 points per game. If one unit has a lot of success against the other, you can guarantee changes will be made.
Georgia player to watch: Aaron Murray
Murray really struggled in last year’s game throwing three INTs, but he found a way to make a play when it mattered most. Murray is looking to finish his career 3-1 against Florida.
Florida player to watch: Tyler Murphy
Murphy played great against Tennessee and Arkansas, but he struggled against LSU and Missouri, both on the road. Murphy’s also been dealing with an injury to his throwing shoulder, and that’s something to keep an eye on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports