Florida Gators: Rhett McGowan

SEC lunchtime links

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
12:00
PM ET
We’re 24 hours away from opening kick in Week 10, so let’s take one last look around the SEC in Friday’s edition of the lunch links.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The look on Mark Richt's face when he talked about getting running back Todd Gurley back for Saturday's game against Florida was priceless.

It was like a boulder of stress rolled off his shoulders. After all, the Bulldogs have been without arguably the country's best running back for three games after Gurley went down early in the second quarter against LSU with what turned out to a debilitating ankle injury.

Georgia has had its issues all over the field, especially because of injuries, but Gurley's absence coupled with the loss of Keith Marshall for the season has contributed significantly to Georgia's 4-3 record. Getting Gurley back will give this offense a major boost and will help open up a passing game down key receivers against the Gators.

"He's, in my opinion, the best running back in the country," Georgia receiver Rhett McGowan said of Gurley. "He's a game changer."

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesKelvin Taylor will start in the backfield for Florida.
Gurley isn't the only potential game changer this weekend. The Gators will start freshman Kelvin Taylor start at running back against the Dawgs. The son of former Florida All-American running back Fred Taylor, Florida's new starter doesn't have Gurley's resume, but he arrived in Gainesville with a lot more hype.

The younger Taylor was the No. 1 running back coming out of high school in the 2013 class after rushing for 12,121 yards and scoring a Florida state-record 191 touchdowns during his varsity career. However, all of Taylor's hype hasn't translated to the field, yet, as he has 172 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.

Richt isn't very familiar with Taylor, but he recruited his father to Florida State years ago. There was even a time in which he thought he had the elder Taylor and receiver Reidel Anthony locked up until they both took last-minute visits to Florida.

"I thought I had them both," Richt said. "They took one more visit just for fun to Florida -- that's what they told me -- and they never came back.

"I remember he kind of said, ‘Hey, save a spot, I’m coming.’"

Richt can laugh about it now, but you have to think he'd like to see his defense stop this Taylor from schooling him like his father did.

Florida coach Will Muschamp wouldn't compare Taylor to his father, but has been impressed with his "natural running instincts" and said he gets the ball north and south as a "one-cut runner."

He isn't a breakaway guy with his speed, but he's a solid downhill runner with the agility to make guys miss. What he has to do is get closer to becoming more of a complete back in Florida's offense.

"He's a guy that's got some special ability, but the thing that's really struck me as we've moved forward with the season is him doing a better job with protection and some of the things you've got to do at the running back position besides running the ball," Muschamp said.

With the offense regressing with each week, the Gators will need some sort of spark from Taylor to help the passing game. He showed promise with his team-high 74 yards and a 20-yard touchdown on 12 carries in the loss to Missouri two weeks ago.

And having Gurley back should help the Dawgs as well. With Gurley in the lineup during the first four games of the season, the Bulldogs averaged 554 offensive yards a game. Since then, the Dawgs have averaged 369.7 yards per game. Injuries haven't helped, but neither has not having Gurley and his 6.3 yards per carry.

"He’s a guy that usually if you block for zero yards, he gets about two or three," Richt said. "If you block for three or four, he gets about seven or eight. If you block it just right, anything can happen.

"He’s a complete back, and he’s a dynamic player really. Hopefully he’s 100 percent and we can get him some space to see what he can do.”

Both of these teams will need to run the ball to succeed on Saturday, and they're both hoping to have fresher, more efficient engines in their backfield down in Jacksonville.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The moment Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett's 24-yard overtime field goal attempt dinged off the right upright at Faurot Field on Saturday night, three fan bases exploded.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt and his Bulldogs look to stay in the SEC East race with a win over rival Florida.
Clearly, one was South Carolina, which had just pulled off the 27-24, come-from-behind win, but at the exact same moment, Florida and Georgia fans, players and coaches celebrated at once, as they climbed right back into the SEC Eastern Division race.

"I felt like we had just won a game," said Georgia wide receiver Rhett McGowan, sporting the same boyish smile he likely had late Saturday night.

While both programs, which face each other in their annual Outdoor Party in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, are unranked with identical 4-3 (3-2 SEC) records, they scored major victories without playing a down. Mizzou's loss resurrected the Dawgs and Gators, even though they're both a game back of the Tigers, who own head-to-head tiebreakers over both.

Still, if both teams win out and see a couple more Mizzou losses, the winner of Saturday's game could sneak into Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

"It gave us a little hope," Florida defensive back Cody Riggs said. "I went crazy. I was jumping around the house. I actually called [safety] Jaylen [Watkins], I was like ‘We’re back in it! We’re back!’ We’ve still got a chance."

The chances are slim, but they are there. It doesn't help either that both will literally limp into EverBank Field, as injuries have ravaged the two this season.

Florida is dealing with eight season-ending injuries (four starters), including quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley, while Georgia has watched nearly every capable skill player go down. Running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley are all out for the year with ACL injuries, while receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful for Saturday.

"I don't think there's any other team besides the [New England] Patriots that's more beat up than us and Florida," Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said.

Even coach Mark Richt had to chuckle at the sight of his depth chart Tuesday. Standing in front of a throng of media members, Richt released a sarcastic snicker when he looked at the available receivers on this week's depth chart.

"Kenny Towns will be available to play," Richt said.

"Also, [Michael] Erdman -- Erdman is ready.”

Not exactly Mitchell or Conley.

The good news is that receiver Michael Bennett (knee) and running back Todd Gurley (ankle) should be available on Saturday, but safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons are still in limbo.

Then there's Florida.

Linebacker Ronald Powell (ankle) is questionable, while linebacker Darrin Kitchens (shoulder) and tight end Colin Thompson (foot) are doubtful. Florida will get defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (head) back, and quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) should be fine.

Outside of injuries, on-field play has hampered those two as well. Florida's offense has stalled in each of its three losses, while Georgia's young, inexperienced defense has had plenty of growing pains.

Because of that, both will face each other on a two-game losing streak for the first time since 1926 and unranked for the second time since 1979.

For the Gators, the past two games have been an offensive nightmare. After averaging 393.4 yards per game and 5.6 yards per play during the first five games, Florida has averaged 195.5 yards per game and 3.1 yards per play while converting just 28.1 percent of its third downs since.

Georgia's defense ranks 58th nationally (390.1 yards per game) and is giving up 5.5 yards per play. It has registered just seven turnovers this season, tied for last in the SEC. To put that into perspective, former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones forced three fumbles and recovered two in his two games against Florida.

This game has lost some of its luster nationally, and neither will be playing for a national championship this season, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. A war of attrition will replace the party in Jacksonville, but that won't stop each side from seething at the sight of the other's color combination.

"If you can’t get excited about playing Florida in that venue, you shouldn’t be a Bulldog. Period," Richt said. "We all understand that. I think everybody is going to get their blood pumping for that.

"Both of us are just fighting like mad to stay in the race. With another loss, I don’t know if mathematically or not it knocks us out, but it’d be pretty tough.”

Added Murphy: "It’s kind of like a one-game playoff. If you lose, your season is kind of done or down in the dumps. Both teams are going to come out hungry and ready to go."

Lynch called the Florida-Georgia rivalry the midseason "gauntlet of college football." This has major East implications and it's a bitter rivalry. They both celebrated Saturday's victory, but when they see each other, true disdain will emerge, which should be motivation enough.

"It's not a one-way street, they legitimately hate us too," Lynch said. "It's nothing like I've ever seen before.

"I'll raise my kids to hate Florida just as anyone else. Even if they go play football at Brown, they'll still root for Georgia over Florida. That's just how it is."

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