JACKSONVILLE -- Disappointment and heartbreak.
That’s how fifth-year defensive tackle Omar Hunter described the feeling after the Florida Gators squandered a 14-point lead in last year’s loss to Georgia. The Gators had a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter but the Bulldogs converted two fourth-down passes for touchdowns and used their rushing attack to run out the clock.
“It’s like somebody kicked me in my jock,” UF junior defensive end Dominique Easley said. “We lost. We got our butts kicked, and it still hurts.”
But a win Saturday when No. 3 Florida (7-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) and No. 12 Georgia (6-1, 4-1) meet at 3:30 p.m. for their annual rivalry game in Jacksonville would erase those painful memories. A win for the Gators clinches the SEC East division and a trip to Atlanta for the conference championship game.
A loss, however, would be crucial. Though Georgia can’t clinch with a win Saturday, the Bulldogs would have to lose to either Ole Miss or Auburn – who are both unranked – in order to not win the East.
‘A GAME WE LET SLIP AWAY’
“We felt like it was a game we let slip away a little bit last year,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “We understand what’s at stake. It’s an important game for our program, for our university and for our fans.”
But, Muschamp said, that doesn’t mean Florida is going to change what has made the team successful to this point. That means the Gators will pound the football in the run game and play great defense and special teams.
With running back Mike Gillislee held to fewer than 100 yards in UF’s past two games, the offensive line said it was focused this week on getting the run game back to full strength. Center Jonotthan Harrison said opponents have been game-planning to stop the run but that the offense uses that as motivation “to make sure that our run game is truly unstoppable.”
If Florida is able to get the run going, it could spell disaster for Georgia, which has given up 103 points in its past three games and allowed opponents to rush for an average of 167 yards per game.
Said UGA coach Mark Richt: “Nobody’s been able to beat them yet, so we’ve got to find a way to slow that down.”
Early this week, Bulldogs safety Shawn Williams said the defense was playing “soft.”
Ironically, Muschamp called his team soft in a postgame tirade after last year’s regular-season-ending loss to Florida State. Since then, Florida has rattled off eight straight wins and played much more physical.
NEW YEAR, NEW RESULT?
Against ranked teams this season, Florida is allowing just 70.67 yards rushing and 11.3 points per game. In those same games, the Gators ran for an average of 135.7 yards and averaged 26 points.
Last year, Georgia outscored Florida 14-3 in the second half and had a full quarter worth of advantage in time of possession when it was over. The Gators have not forgotten. Easley said he watches tape from last year’s six losses every night before he goes to sleep. On loop this week? The Bulldogs.
“It’s like you’re going to watch a video clip of you getting punched in your face over and over again,” he said. “You’re going to get mad every time you watch it.”