One of the most gratifying things about the past couple of years in UGA football has been the flipping of the narrative when it comes to the annual game in Jacksonville.
Where once the Gators were seen (by those with short memories dating back only to 1990) as “owning” the Georgia-Florida series, the past couple of weeks leading up to this year’s game have produced headlines like this one in the Orlando Sentinel: “UF’s Muschamp is now officially coaching for his job.” And this headline in USA Today: “With another loss, will Florida’s Will Muschamp be on the hot seat?”
Yes, the page has turned in Cocktail Party history. As the Athens Banner-Herald noted this week, there are now only a half-dozen current Bulldogs who’ve played in a loss to Florida: Aaron Murray, Rantavious Wooten, Arthur Lynch, Kenarious Gates, Blake Sailors and Chase Vasser.
Where once Jacksonville loomed so large in the Bulldog psyche that Georgia fans were calling for the game to be moved elsewhere, that particular monkey appears to have scrambled off the players’ backs.
“I wasn’t here when they were beating us,” Bulldog linebacker Amarlo Herrera said at this week’s press conference, “so I couldn’t say if it was a mental thing. We just look at them as another SEC team. But it is a rivalry game so it is a big one.”
That much hasn’t changed. Despite Florida’s dominance in the previous couple of decades, the Bulldogs lead the series 49-40-2, and in the 80 years the game has been played in Jacksonville, Georgia holds a 42-37-1 advantage.
Still, it’s always been a streaky rivalry, with Vince Dooley having a 17-7-1 record against the Gators during his years as Georgia head coach, a fact conveniently overlooked by those who like to cite Florida’s winning of 18 games in the series after the Steve Spurrier era commenced.
But in recent years Georgia-Florida has become the Dogs’ most competitive rivalry, with the Gators holding a slim 5-4 edge in the past nine games (with one of those wins by just 3 points in overtime) and the series deadlocked 3-3 over the past six years.
More importantly, it’s the Dogs who have the winning streak now, and it’s the Gators and their coach who are feeling the pressure and fielding uncomfortable questions from the media about when they’re going to turn this series around.
Mark Richt certainly knows what that’s like. He told reporters this week that the “When are you going to beat Florida?” questions in the past got pretty old.
But, he noted, “That isn’t the big topic of conversation this year.”
Both teams enter this year’s game banged up and clinging to a slender hope in the SEC East, but what really matters to the Bulldog Nation is that Georgia can win three in a row Saturday against the Gators for the first time since 1987-89 and Murray can become the first Bulldogs quarterback since Buck Belue to lead his team to three straight wins over Florida.
Defensive lineman Garrison Smith said the team recognizes the importance of that. “It would definitely be big just because this rivalry is so important and it means so much to so many people. To be able to be a part of those winning teams would definitely be big. I would like to leave that with my legacy, being a senior.”
It’s great to be able to hear talk like that again during Georgia-Florida week.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg