- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It doesn’t get any simpler for Florida against Georgia on Saturday.
Beat the Bulldogs in the annual meeting between the SEC rivals in Jacksonville, Fla., and the Gators will be Eastern Division champions.
No if-then scenarios. No needing help. Just win and they’re guaranteed a spot in the Dec. 1 SEC championship game in Atlanta.
Georgia obviously has a lot at stake, too, but it’s not as simple a scenario for the Bulldogs. They have to beat Florida and then beat Ole Miss and Auburn to win the division title. They can lose to either the Rebels or the Tigers and still win the division, but that involves tiebreakers and getting help from the rest of the league.
That makes Saturday’s game at EverBank Field one of the biggest in series history.
"We're just looking at that as another steppingstone towards getting to Atlanta or another obstacle that we need to overcome," center Jonotthan Harrison said. "We're not going to look at any records. We're not going to look at any of the media or anything. We're going to play this team as if it's our last, as if it's a national championship."
Not quite, but a victory will keep the No. 2 Gators (7-0, 6-0 SEC) in contention. UF almost certainly will be favored when the odds are released, much like they have for most of the past 20-plus years.
Florida has won 18 of the past 22 meetings with Georgia, dating to 1990. The Bulldogs won last year’s game 24-20, thanks to an early fourth-quarter TD run by Richard Samuel and a drive that killed the final 5:32, but the Bulldogs haven’t won back-to-back games in the series since they won three in a row from 1987 to 1989.
Florida is now doing everything it didn’t do in that game last season. The Gators gave up 185 yards rushing to the Bulldogs. They’re allowing teams only 97.3 yards per game rushing this season.
The Gators were held to minus-19 yards rushing, in part because QB John Brantley was sacked six times for minus-43 yards. UF is averaging 212.7 yards per game rushing and has gained at least 142 yards rushing in all but one game. South Carolina just held the Gators to 89 yards on the ground.
Georgia held the ball 15 minutes longer than Florida in last year’s game. The Gators have an average time of possession advantage of more than eight minutes per game this season.
UF is nowhere close to being as inept as it was when the teams met last season.
"We understand now, and I think that’s the biggest thing," DT Sharrif Floyd said. "We understand what our coaches want from us. We understand what we want from each other and what we expect from each other. And we hold onto that standard.
"We don’t let anyone go below it and that’s just part of being a team, a family, a unit."
It’s also a big reason the Gators have the chance to win a division title, which is something not many people expected Florida to have this season. The Gators were picked to finish third in the division behind Georgia and South Carolina, and it certainly looked like that’s where the Gators were headed after the first six quarters of the season.
But the second-half turnaround against Texas A&M started Florida on the path to the division title, and this weekend it winds through Jacksonville.
"There was so much determination on the team," Harrison said. "There was so much focus. There was so much hard work in the offseason. We just came into the season approaching each game one at a time. One at a time, and we knew that we'd be successful.
"We had all the tools, all the keys to be a successful team and it’s just really showing right now."
6dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough
10dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf