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Florida Gators remember painful 2011 loss to Georgia Bulldogs

It has been nearly an entire year now, but the memory of the 2011 Florida-Georgia game remains as fresh in Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley's mind as if it was just last week. Maybe even just yesterday.

The Bulldogs rallied from a 14-point deficit, highlighted by two fourth-down touchdowns, for a 24-20 victory.

"We got our butts kicked, and it still hurts," Easley said this week.

Which is why portions of the Georgia game are among a handful Easley watches video of every night before he goes to sleep. And the junior is not alone.

"It's pretty much everybody," said junior defensive back Jaylen Watkins, whose pass-interference penalty on third and 10 gave Georgia a scoring opportunity in the third quarter. "We had a lot of regrets last year. We remember the feelings in the locker room we had last year. We don't want to be at that point this year."

For all this time, it has served as motivation to improve, and of late, a reminder of how far they've come. But when No. 3 Florida and No. 12 Georgia meet today in their annual rivalry at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, there will be much more on the line than just pride and revenge.

There's a championship at stake.

A win gives Florida (7-0, 6-0 SEC) its first East Division title since 2009 and a trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

"It's another big game, it's an SEC East game, and it's the Florida-Georgia game," UF sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "You couldn't … ask for more. You come to Florida to play in games like this."

For Georgia, a victory keeps the Bulldogs in contention for the SEC title.

"The guys are ready," said Aaron Murray, a former Plant High quarterback who is coming off a career-high 427 passing yards against Kentucky but has not led a victory over a top-10 opponent in his three years at Georgia.

"I don't think it matters heading into this game which team is ranked what. There are so many emotions no matter what. I think we'll probably play harder than we have all year. It's a fun game, and I love being a part of it."

Although both Georgia coach Mark Richt and Florida coach Will Muschamp insisted they would keep things on an even keel for their respective teams, each said it was impossible to downplay the significance.

"Usually, there's not a whole lot that has to be said or done," Richt said. "I think our guys understand how important this game is. I don't think we're going to have to figure out how to motivate anybody. It's a big game; no one's going to be able to act like it's not."

Georgia entered the week with a bit of controversy after safety Shawn Williams called his defense "soft." But the players insist they are prepared for the challenge this week, and there is no dissension among them.

Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera said practices this week included more full contact, more live periods and game situations.

"We're all pumped up," Herrera said. "It's now or never for us. We have to get everything together and play a complete game for this week and for the rest of the season or else we won't be able to accomplish our goals."

Muschamp knows the history of this game well. He grew up a Gator fan and played in the game for Georgia from 1991 to 1994. He knows what's at stake for the Gators and just how high emotions will run on both sides.

"Obviously you look at the tradition through the years, Georgia back when Coach (Vince) Dooley was there had a great run," Muschamp said. "And then you look when Coach (Steve) Spurrier was here, we had a great run. We're looking to try to get on another run. I can tell you that. It's a great environment. The stadium is 50-50. … When you come across that bridge there on the St. Johns River, if your blood's not boiling, something's wrong with you. I can assure you of that."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Florida Gators remember painful 2011 loss to Georgia Bulldogs 10/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 9:43pm]
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