We’re back with Florida Football Friday Final, where OnlyGators.com takes a last look at the No. 11 Florida Gators as they prepare for their rivalry showdown against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) and Georgia (5-2, 3-2 SEC) will do battle in a game that could very well decide the SEC East, with the Gators all but clinching the title with a victory and the Bulldogs pulling in front of the race with a tiebreaker if they pull off a win. The contest will air live nationally on CBS and kick from EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
This week on OnlyGators.com
Avoiding disaster: WR Antonio Callaway (foot) should be fine; Florida focused on stopping Georgia’s run game – even without talented Nick Chubb
Perfect timing: Bye week really helped Gators, QB Treon Harris
Added depth could be a big help: Five injured players back for Georgia
Season on the line: Florida has surpassed expectations already in 2015, but the Gators and head coach Jim McElwain now have to deal with adjusted goals – win the SEC East and play for the league title. There is no better way historically for Florida to step up and prove it deserves that crown than in its annual rivalry game against Georgia, the winner of which has more often than not gone on to win the division itself.[table “79” not found /]
Since the start of the SEC Championship in 1992, the Gators (10) or Bulldogs (5) have gone on to win the SEC East 15 times. Of those 15 division titles, the winner of the Florida-Georgia game has captured the SEC East crown 12 times. The Gators have wound up as division winners in 10 of their 13 victories over the Dawgs (1992-96, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2008-09) with UGA thrice figuring out ways to win the SEC East despite falling to UF in the rivalry game (2002-03, 2005).
Should Florida get past Georgia on Saturday, the SEC East title will be all but clinched. The Gators will have South Carolina (3-4) and Vanderbilt (3-4) remaining on the schedule; VU would have to win out with UF losing out in league games in order to force a three-way tiebreaker. In other words, Florida-Georgia is for all the marbles … just like it should be and has been quite often in the past.
“Love being in this position where we control our own destiny. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we have a good shot at heading to Atlanta,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Trip Thurman said.
Running resurgence? It is tough to forget the result of last year’s game. The Gators beat the Bulldogs 38-20 with then-freshman quarterback Treon Harris attempting six and completing just three passes. How? Florida ran the ball 60 times … for 418 yards … and five touchdowns. Then-sophomore Kelvin Taylor led the way with 197 yards and two scores on 25 carries. But it was then-junior Matt Jones (25 carries, 192 yards, two touchdowns) that set the tone early and put the hurt on Georgia.
Harris and Taylor will be starting again for the Gators on Saturday, but Florida’s running game is unlikely to be the focus of the offense. Taylor has only averaged better than 3.5 yards per carry twice this season, in an eight-touch performance against New Mexico State in the opener and 19-carry, 102-yard game against Tennessee on Oct. 3. While he has the talent to get it done, the Gators’ still-depleted offensive line has been much better as pass protectors than run blockers. Thurman chalks up many of UF’s issues to communication up front, noting that the players are talented but still inexperienced.
Plus, with Florida’s true freshmen running backs – Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett – both in and out of the rotation, the breathers he had been promised by McElwain have been fewer and further between.
“Both Jordans – Scarlett and Cronkrite – have done a good job. Those guys have battled multiple things as far as knick-knack injuries, learning all our shifts and motions and exactly what we’re doing, and then the flu bug hit and two different phases of that hit them. … Typical freshman year-type stuff,” running backs coach Tim Skipper explained this week. “I like what we’re seeing out of those guys, and I think they’re finally coming into their groove now. I like what I see in their eyes, and I think we’ll see some good things out of them in the future.”
Skipper noted that he has been impressed with Taylor overall, not only due to his play but also his leadership, which takes two different forms over the course of a week. “Kelvin’s an interesting guy. When we’re in the meeting room, he’s pretty vocal and he’s talkative and helping the younger guys out. On the field he’s more of a silent guy, just goes about his business; he’s more into just doing what he needs to do to make us better,” the coach explained. “He’s done a good job with that. I think the guys look up to him, and I’ve been pleased with how he’s been.”
Saturday, as Florida looks to shut down Georgia’s running game behind Sony Michel, it also hopes to jump-star its own rushing attack, which led to victory in 2014 but could be a hindrance if not fixed in 2015.
Time to have some fun: While McElwain is still a neophyte to the rivalry, plenty of Gators have more than enough experience to teach their new coach what Florida-Georgia is all about. Thurman said that was the plan this week, for the players to meet with McElwain and explain what’s at stake from a pride standpoint, and junior wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood shared his version of what the game is all about.
“Madness. Just complete havoc, craziness. It’s probably going to be one of the craziest things he’s ever seen,” Fulwood said. “It’s going to be something to see. It’s something you definitely have to experience. This is definitely a chance to have some fun.”
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Antonio Riles, who is from Georgia, said the game is the reason he came to Florida. Sophomore WR Brandon Powell explained that he is well-versed in the series but is more concerned with its implications than the rivalry between two states.
“We all know what’s at stake but we take it as another game, try not to get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “Anything we can do to get another W, that’s it.”