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Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs still on SEC East collision course, even after first losses

The Gators are still who we thought they were after the LSU loss. But Georgia...
Georgia's D'Andre Walker (15) tackles Florida's Dameon Pierce (27) in the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville last season.
Georgia's D'Andre Walker (15) tackles Florida's Dameon Pierce (27) in the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville last season. [ Times ]
Published Oct. 14, 2019

GAINESVILLE — Before Florida left for Tiger Stadium on Saturday, some of the Gators gathered to watch the tail end of rival Georgia’s stunning home loss to South Carolina.

Their reaction was mixed.

“A lot of us don’t like Georgia, so some people were happy that they lost,” safety Donovan Stiner said Monday. “But some of us … we kind of wanted them to win so once we play them, it’ll make the game bigger, and we would be the ones to knock them off.”

Alas, UF won’t be the first team to knock off Georgia, if the Gators win on Nov. 2. Nor can the Bulldogs be the team that ends UF’s perfect season; LSU already did that.

RELATED: Florida Gators can’t let LSU loss turn into another

But as eventful and entertaining as both games were last weekend across both sides of the state line, the 10,000-foot view hasn’t changed. Florida and Georgia are still on a collision course to Jacksonville that will likely decide the SEC East championship.

Granted, that statement seems less definitive now than it was a week ago.

Georgia looks vulnerable after standout quarterback Jake Fromm delivered the worst performance of his career. If South Carolina is good enough to win in Athens, then Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks are good enough to beat his old team at Williams-Brice Stadium this weekend. And at least one set of advanced metrics (SP+) considers Missouri a top-10 team, ahead of UF.

South Carolina tight end Kyle Markway (84) holds a piece of the Sanford Stadium hedge in his teeth as he celebrates defeating Georgia 20-17 in double overtime Saturday in Athens.
South Carolina tight end Kyle Markway (84) holds a piece of the Sanford Stadium hedge in his teeth as he celebrates defeating Georgia 20-17 in double overtime Saturday in Athens. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

But talent usually wins, and the Gators and Bulldogs are still the division’s most talented teams.

They’re just don’t look like elite ones yet.

Georgia was supposed to be there this year after stringing together three consecutive top-three recruiting classes. Maybe in December we’ll look back on the South Carolina loss as a fluke caused by an uncharacteristically rough performance by a future NFL quarterback and a missed field goal by an All-American. But for now, it’s hard to see a team that lost at home to Muschamp’s third-string quarterback as a national title contender.

RELATED: Georgia football’s rise comes at the expense of Florida, in more ways than one

While Georgia’s loss showed the Bulldogs might not be as good as the experts expected, UF’s defeat proved the Gators are exactly who we thought they were. They’re very good but not great.

As gifted as coach Dan Mullen is as a play caller, UF still has too many weaknesses on its roster. Mullen thought his offense could run on LSU, and it succeeded at times. But the Gators averaged only 3.7 yards per carry —their third-worst performance so far — in part because of a young offensive line.

Mullen has said repeatedly that he’s still building depth through recruiting. The holes are showing on defense.

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The Gators stumbled when they lost standout pass rushers Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard to injuries at LSU.

RELATED: Florida Gators showing trust in Emory Jones

UF doesn’t have enough experienced talent behind them, especially after Jachai Polite regrettably left early for the NFL. The result: A Gators defense with the fifth-most sacks in the nation failed to record one Saturday.

“It's a big loss when they're not out there,” Stiner said.

To be fair, losing two NFL-caliber players is a big loss for any program. Only a select few have the talent and depth to withstand those kinds of hits — and they’re the Alabamas and Ohio States that consistently challenge for championships.

Saturday’s loss showed that UF probably isn’t in that group yet.

The good thing for the Gators? Georgia might not be, either.

Injury updates

Zuniga (ankle) and Greenard (lower leg) will both be game-time decisions Saturday.

Quarterback Kyle Trask said his left knee is “100 percent ready to go” and “feeling back to where it used to be” after spraining it against Auburn. He was limited in practice last week but didn’t look limited at LSU when he became the Gators’ fourth 300-yard passer since 2010.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.