5 Florida-Georgia games where underdogs have flipped the script
Georgia enters the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country. Florida enters 4-3, unranked and a 14.5-point underdog. Florida fans have placed at least 5,000 of their allotted tickets on re-sale websites and that number may only increase as Saturday inches closer. By most accounts, Georgia is expected to cruise past its archrival and all but clinch a trip to the SEC Championship Game in the process. The table is set for a banner weekend at the Jacksonville beaches and bars — at least if you’re a Bulldog.
There’s an old adage that you throw the records out in rivalry games, but in Power 5 college football, that’s more of a fun cliché people say or a bad caller squawking on your morning drive football talk show than a reality. Most clichés contain at least a kernel of rationality, however, and this one is no different. It is certainly true in a rivalry game, there are high emotions, bragging rights at stake, and the teams and players are intimately familiar with one another, having usually been recruited by both schools and sometimes hailing from the same state. There’s also the fact that if you are having a tough year, winning a rivalry game is a way to salvage the season, providing extra motivation to win.
But the reality is much bleaker for underdogs in Power 5 rivalry games. In fact, since 2010, favorites in Power 5 rivalry games have a .745 win percentage. Favorites have also managed to cover 70% of the time. These numbers suggest that not only do favorites tend to win rivalry games — for the most part, they do so by the margins the smart folks in Vegas expect.
In the SEC, these numbers hold. Including the big cross-conference ACC-SEC rivalries, favorites win .770% of rivalry games and cover in 67%. There are, interestingly, two notable exceptions among SEC rivalry games: the Egg Bowl, which has seen an underdog win 5 games since 2010, and the Cocktail Party, which has seen underdogs win 4 times. Since 2000, that number is even higher: 9 underdog victories! While those numbers aren’t “throw the records out” worthy, they do demonstrate that on occasion, the script is flipped.
Here are 5 Florida-Georgia games (the late, great Lewis Grizzard wrote, of what to call the Florida-Georgia game, that “we will call it Florida-Georgia only when the reptilians win the year before and we will call it Georgia-Florida only when the Dawgs hunker down and have Gator meat the harvest prior”), and that works for me, I suppose.
2012: No. 12 Georgia 17, No. 3 Florida 9
The Gators rolled into Jacksonville unbeaten, with the nation’s top-ranked defense in total defense, pass efficiency defense, sack percentage and yards allowed per play. The Gators had multiple future NFL first-round draft picks on that unit as well as a defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn, who later coached the Atlanta Falcons to the precipice of victory in the Super Bowl in the 2016 season.
Georgia, however, was the best offense Florida had faced and there were questions about whether Florida’s offense, which was largely predicated on a power run game and a pass game led by a game manager and a splendid tight end in Jordan Reed — could score enough to win.
They couldn’t, but it wasn’t because Georgia moved the ball effectively. Instead, it was the defense that saved the day, coming up with multiple turnovers — including 2 in the red zone — to upset Florida 17-9. Georgia finished the regular season 11-1 and lost a heartbreaker to eventual national champion Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. The Gators also finished 11-1, including wins over ACC champion Florida State and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
But it was the Cocktail Party upset — and Reed’s fumble at the goal line late — that most Gators remember about that 11 win campaign.
2007: No. 20 Georgia 42, No. 9 Florida 30
The Gators were the defending national champions and still in a reasonably strong position to return to Atlanta and play for the SEC Championship when they arrived in Jacksonville to take on the Dawgs. Georgia had been routed early in the year by Tennessee, and they were not expected to stay within a touchdown (-8.5) of the explosive Gators, led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
The Dawgs flipped the narrative with a power run game led by outstanding running back Knowshon Moreno, who bulled his way to 188 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns as Georgia simply whipped the Gators on both lines of scrimmage. Buoyed by a run game averaging 6 yards a carry, Matthew Stafford connected on 2 play-action touchdown passes of 50 yards or more, including an 84-yard strike to Mohamed Massaquoi, to give Georgia just enough balance to keep the Gators honest.
Georgia also did a splendid job containing Tebow, who ran for a career-low -15 yards on 13 attempts in the Dawgs’ victory. Georgia would use the momentum from that win as a springboard to a 10-2 finish, and by the time they routed Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, most college football analysts felt they were the best, or certainly one of the two best, college football teams in the country.
1997: No. 14 Georgia 37, No. 6 Florida 17
Peyton Manning never would have played for in the SEC Championship Game if it weren’t for Robert Edwards running over, around and through the Gators for 127 yards and 4 touchdowns. No run was as important — or as pretty — as the 37-yarder that salted the game away in the 4th quarter.
This game, which was one of only 2 losses for Florida as a double-digit favorite under Steve Spurrier, was the Head Ball Coach’s lone loss to Georgia in his 12 years as Florida’s head coach.
The defensive MVP of the game? None other than Kirby Smart, who snagged 2 interceptions to end any Florida chance of repeating as national champion in 1997.
2014: Florida 38, No. 9 Georgia 20
In one of the coldest Cocktail Party games on record (48 degrees at kick and blustery), the unranked, 3-3 Gators steamrolled the top-10 Dawgs 38-20 in what was Will Muschamp’s lone win over his alma mater as Florida’s head coach. Florida started Treon Harris, who began the season as the third-string quarterback, and he completed just 3 passes. Of course, Florida attempted only 6 passes, thanks to a run game that generated a Cocktail Party record 418 yards rushing.
Both Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor eclipsed 190 yards rushing, and Florida’s rushing total of 418 yards remains the most yards rushing in an SEC game this century.
At the time, the game was thought to be perhaps a job-saver for Muschamp, who desperately needed to show Florida fans the program could still beat Georgia. Instead, the Gators would lose in The Swamp to South Carolina 2 weeks later, snuffing out any momentum they had gained in Jacksonville and sending Muschamp packing at the end of the regular season.
2002: Florida 20, No. 4 Georgia 13
The unranked Gators were 4-3 in Year 1 under Ron Zook and scuffling as they met a Georgia team at one of the heights of the Mark Richt era. Georgia had a sensational defense, ranked first nationally in total defense and pass defense entering the game, and an offense led by a future All-SEC quarterback in David Greene. The Bulldogs were 12-point favorites and to many, that number seemed low.
Florida didn’t care. The Gators played their best game of the season, stuffing the efficient Georgia offense on 13 consecutive 3rd downs, and intercepting a DJ Shockley pass for a touchdown — and the lead — late in the 2nd quarter.
Still, Georgia led 13-12 in the 4th quarter, having bent, but not broken, against the Gators’ offense all night.
That’s when Florida’s All-American quarterback, Rex Grossman, took over. Playing with a sprained knee, Grossman led the Gators on an 88-yard game-winning touchdown drive, which he capped with a strike to tight end Ben Troupe and a 2-point conversion scramble on his injured knee.
Georgia finished the season 13-1 and SEC champions, but the loss to Florida prevented the Dawgs from finishing No. 1 or No. 2 in the BCS and playing for the national championship.
For Grossman, who was robbed of the Heisman Trophy the year prior, it was the signature moment of a sensational collegiate career.
The win also remains the largest point spread overcome in the series this century.