Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs meet in pivotal game for their seasons

Seven weeks ago, Georgia was 0-2 as fans and analysts wrote its obituary and declared coach Mark Richt wouldn't survive the season.

When October began, Florida was 4-0 and senior quarterback John Brantley was on a path to redemption and success after an abysmal 2010 season.

Then Brantley got hurt and the Gators lost three in a row, while Georgia got refocused and put together five consecutive wins.

Florida and No. 22 Georgia meet today in their annual rivalry in Jacksonville, and while each has made a 180-degree turn, they also have another thing in common: Both desperately need a win — one team needs it to maintain momentum, the other needs it to try to salvage a season.

"We've suffered these three losses, and for us to get this win would definitely help us move forward," Gators receiver Frankie Hammond said. "We're very aware (of what's at stake). We understand we have to win out to move forward to the (SEC) championship. Losses hurt us. So just winning this game would definitely jump-start us for the latter part of the season."

Both teams are alive in the SEC East race, although neither completely controls its own destiny. Georgia is tied for first with South Carolina at 4-1, though the Gamecocks hold the tiebreaker with a victory over the Bulldogs; UF is 2-3 with South Carolina still on its schedule.

"We are paying more attention to this game this year because of the way the SEC East race is shaping up," Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings said. "We're tied for first, and we feel like we really have a chance to win the East as long as we do our part."

"We know it's a big game," Georgia's Richt said. "We know it's big for the rivalry this year. For a lot of our fans they always want to ask, 'You going to beat Florida? You going to beat Florida? You going to beat Florida?' That's the goal.

"But I always hope more than anything that when we get to that game, it's still very meaningful for the (East race), which it is. … So that's what we're thrilled about. But we know we haven't had a lot of success against them lately, and we have our work cut out for us."

Since 1990, the Gators are 18-3 against the Bulldogs and have won eight of the past 10. Georgia's most recent win was in 2007, a 42-30 victory.

All season, the Florida players and coaches have harped on a "nameless, faceless" approach each week, insisting the focus should be on themselves and their preparation should be consistent, regardless of the opponent. But this week has been different. The Gators have openly talked about the Georgia rivalry, the SEC race and their need to end the three-game losing streak and avoid the program's first four-game skid since 1988.

"This is a big game, a big week," senior running back Chris Rainey said. "We know what we need to do. This is a big one in terms of we can still go to the SEC Championship. So this will be big."

Florida coach Will Muschamp, a Georgia safety from 1991 to 1994 who never defeated the Gators during his playing days, said the approach this week has remained that every game is important, but he can't downplay the significance of this one.

"Certainly I don't think I've got to stand in the team meeting room and explain to them how important this rivalry is to the University of Florida," Muschamp said. "They understand that, and they see all that and what's at stake."

So, too, does Georgia. But while Richt said he understands that given the circumstances currently surrounding the two teams and that expectations are high with Bulldog fans, he cautions not to expect an automatic blowout.

"I know they've lost the last three, but they've played three ranked teams and two of them are dominating everybody that they play," said Richt, who is 2-8 against the Gators in his 11-year career at Georgia. "I think there is a perception that Georgia is on a roll and Florida is struggling, but if you flip those schedules, I'm not sure it wouldn't be a whole different story for us and them as far as winning."

Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs meet in pivotal game for their seasons 10/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 28, 2011 9:16pm]

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