ATHENS — This isn’t about losses. This is about humiliation.
Losses come by a field goal or a touchdown. Humiliation comes when an opponent regularly rolls up point totals in the 30s and 40s and is so comfortably ahead so early that the opposing quarterback is waving a towel and leading cheers in the third quarter.
The problem with the Georgia-Florida “rivalry” is that scores like 45-13, 52-17 and 49-10 don’t scream rivalry — they just scream, like the creepy Edvard Munch painting of the same name. That pale-looking creature with his hands on his face and his mouth hanging open resembles the average Bulldogs fan traveling home from Jacksonville.
The Bulldogs have a chance to change that this week. They go into the Florida game with the better quarterback, the better running attack and certainly the better recent results. But Saturday may be less about Aaron Murray, Washaun Ealey and the contrasting directions of the Dogs (three-game winning streak) and Gators (three-game losing streak) than it is about this: defense.
Florida has won the last two meetings by scores of 49-10 and 41-17. They have won 17 of the last 20 meetings, scoring 30 or more points 12 times, 40 or more six times and 50-plus twice. In only three of the last 20 meetings has the Georgia defense held Florida under 20.
During and since the Dogs’ four-game slide, coach Mark Richt has stressed the need for his team to be more aggressive and physical. He brought in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in part to help that cause. Too often under Willie Martinez, Georgia was too easy to play against.
If the Bulldogs truly want to end the humiliation, it starts on defense.
They’ll never have a better chance. Urban Meyer doesn’t have Tim Tebow any more, and his offense has tumbled to 89th in the nation. The Gators are looking up to Kansas, Louisiana-Lafayette and Eastern Michigan.
Mississippi State held Florida to seven points. That’s 34 less than Georgia held it to last year.
Cornerback Sanders Commings said of that 41-17 loss, “It was sickening, really.”
His lingering memory from the last meeting wasn’t a Florida touchdown but Tebow leading the Gators fans in cheers.
“He was running up and down the sideline, pumping the fans up after they got a big lead on us,” he said. “It was like the third quarter and they were already celebrating.”
Most of Grantham’s background is in the NFL but he was aware enough about Georgia-Florida history to bring it up to players when he arrived in Athens.
“He brought up Florida even before we had played our first game,” Commings said. “He brought up Florida at our first meeting back in the summer.”
What did he say?
“It was, ‘If you want to kick Florida’s [rear], you better start working now.’”
The Dogs were run on by South Carolina (189 rushing yards) and passed on by Arkansas (380 yards). They allowed 11 touchdowns in the losses to Arkansas, Mississippi State and Colorado.
The defense has improved since. What we can’t know is to what degree Tennessee’s and Vanderbilt’s ineptitude impacted the lopsided wins of 41-14 and 43-0. Some concern returned last week when Kentucky converted nine of 15 third-down situations and rolled up four touchdowns and 353 passing yards.
When asked about Florida’s struggles, Richt wouldn’t bite. Allowing 90 points in two meetings would make any coach gun shy. He even called Florida a “great football team,” words not being spoken these days in Gainesville.
“Florida has won the East I don’t know how many years in a row,” he said.
Actually only two, Mark. It just seems longer.
Richt again: “They’re still a team that controls their own destiny. There’s no doubt we need to step it up [defensively]. The bottom line is we need to continue to improve. The last three weeks our goal has been to play better, to play more physical and practice more physical.”
This is the week to show it.
Previous two Georgia-Florida posts