Georgia heavy favorite, but strange things happen at The Cocktail Party
It’s Florida-Georgia week and if history is any guide in this bitter rivalry, only one thing is certain.
Expect the unexpected.
Strange things happen when Florida and Georgia meet on the banks of the St. John’s River.
Maybe it’s the neutral site.
Maybe it’s the unpredictable nature of late October weather in Jacksonville. Florida and Georgia have played this game in near-freezing temperatures and in unbearable heat, on glorious, sunny days and windy and foggy ones, in sunshine and in pouring rain, on fast tracks and in muddy slops. The forecast rarely seems to matter, but the weather often impacts the football game.
Maybe strange things just happen in rivalry games, though that seems less plausible. Take Florida and Georgia’s other big rivalry games, for example. In the Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech games, the best team tends to win. That’s less often the case in Florida-Georgia.
Whatever the cause, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has seen more than its fair share of stunning results.
Since 1980, when Georgia last won the national championship, the Cocktail Party has seen the lower-ranked or unranked opponent pull an upset 12 times. A team that entered ranked No. 1 in the AP poll lost once (Georgia beating Florida 24-3 in 1985) and teams entering in the top 5 have lost five times (Georgia’s win in 1985, Georgia’s win over then undefeated and No. 2 Florida in 2012 and Florida victories over undefeated Georgia teams in 2002 and 2005 and No. 4 UGA in 2003).
Georgia enters Jacksonville a two-touchdown favorite Saturday.
But the Bulldogs are just 1-2 this century when entering the Cocktail Party as a double-digit favorite. In 2004, UGA’s only win of those three games, the Bulldogs failed to cover against a Florida team with a lame duck head coach in Ron Zook. All told, teams ranked in the top 10 are just 13-9 in this game since 1980, and many of those numbers are inflated by Steve Spurrier’s run of dominance in this rivalry in the 90s and early 2000s.
In other words, this game hasn’t been kind to favorites over the last forty years.
Here is a look back at five of the most stunning results.
1985: No. 17 Georgia 24, No. 1 Florida 3
The Gators finished first in the SEC in 1984 and No. 1 in the New York Times poll. The Gators were stripped of what would have been their first conference championship, but they rolled through their early schedule in 1985 and arrived in Jacksonville unbeaten and No. 1.
Facing a UGA team with a struggling young quarterback in Wayne Johnson, what looked like a mismatch turned into a nightmare for Florida, as the Bulldogs dominated from start to finish behind the one-two running back punch of Tim Worley and Keith Henderson. The Gators waited nearly another decade for a No. 1 one ranking, and UGA fans tore down the goalposts at the Gator Bowl, still the only time that has occurred in this rivalry.
2002: Florida 20, No. 5 Georgia 13
Spurrier was gone and the unranked Gators were scuffling, facing an undefeated Georgia behemoth, under Mark Richt, that had won four games by four touchdowns or more. Georgia fans expected a coronation in the first Cocktail Party game held at night in half a century — they hit beach bars with bravado two nights in advance and held a nearly 2-1 advantage in the stands come kickoff.
Florida All-American quarterback Rex Grossman stopped their revelry. Playing on a sprained right knee, Grossman threw for 339 yards, leading an 89-yard touchdown drive as Florida reclaimed the lead in the fourth quarter. A young Gator defense did the rest, holding an explosive DJ Shockley and David Greene-led UGA offense to 0-for-13 on third down conversions and scoring on an interception return from Jacksonville native Guss Scott.
Florida spoiled what remains Georgia’s best chance at a national championship since 1980.
2005: No. 16 Florida 14, No. 4 Georgia 10
Urban Meyer’s first season in Gainesville had been an exercise in frustration for the young coach. The Gators were humbled by Alabama in Tuscaloosa and following a brutal loss at LSU, Meyer broke down in tears on the media podium, wondering if his spread offense would work in the speedy SEC, or could ever work for his talented young quarterback, Chris Leak.
Rather than mope, Meyer used the bye week to tinker, installing an offense better suited for Leak and the personnel Meyer had inherited from Ron Zook. The decision paid immediate dividends, as Florida scored on its first two drives and held on to vanquish Georgia’s hopes of an undefeated season and end another national championship for Richt.
2012: No. 10 Georgia 17, No. 3 Florida 9
Behind an all-time caliber defense and a power running game, the Gators looked the part of national title contender in Year 2 under Will Muschamp. The only question was what would happen if Florida’s talented but raw freshman quarterback, Jeff Driskel, had to win a game with his arm.
Florida’s defense did its part, intercepting veteran Aaron Murray three times and consistently giving Florida quality field position. But Driskel and the Gators turned the ball over six times, including twice in the red zone, and their hopes for both a SEC East and national title were spoiled in Jacksonville.
The loss was the only blemish on a 11-1 regular season for Florida.
2014: Florida 38, No. 9 Georgia 20
On a day where a blustery, northern wind off the St. John’s River kept the wind chill in the 30s, a struggling 3-3 Florida team with a freshman quarterback and little to play for didn’t figure to have much chance against a Georgia team with SEC title aspirations. Most Gators fans that did show up expected this to be the final game in the Will Muschamp era, which had gone horribly wrong since a tremendous Year 2.
Instead Florida, a double-digit underdog, dominated from kickoff.
Treon Harris attempted only six passes, spending most the day handing off to Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor. Those two combined to pile up an astonishing 418 yards rushing. The Bulldogs fans cleared the building out early in the second half, setting off a wild celebration on the Florida sideline and delaying, for a week or two at least, Muschamp’s fate.