- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- When No. 2 Florida (7-0, 6-0 SEC) and No. 10 Georgia (6-1, 4-1) take the field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, it won’t be your everyday rivalry game between two sides that share a mutual dislike. This one carries even greater SEC East and possibly BCS implications than normal.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest UGA-related storylines as we move closer to kickoff:
1. High stakes involved
This game has high stakes every season in terms of bragging rights between two heated rivals -- bragging rights Florida has held for all but four years since 1990. But there is more to this year’s meeting in Jacksonville than simple bragging rights. If Florida wins, it will claim its first SEC East title since 2009. If Georgia wins, it will claim first place in the division and will need wins against Ole Miss and Auburn to return to the SEC championship.
2. Big-game Bulldogs?
When South Carolina blasted Georgia 35-7 earlier this month, it dredged up the eye-opening statistics about Georgia’s performances against ranked opponents in the last few years. In case you missed it, the Bulldogs are 6-14 against top-25 teams since 2008, including a 2-8 mark in the last 10. Georgia coach Mark Richt could certainly use a victory on Saturday to quiet critics who say he has lost the ability to lead the Bulldogs to wins against the best opponents.
3. Defending Driskel
It was just two games ago that Georgia completely failed to contain South Carolina’s dual-threat quarterback, Connor Shaw, which allowed the Gamecocks pile up 177 yards in the first quarter and jump out to a 21-0 lead. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel does not play the exact same brand of football, but he is another tough runner who has been efficient when he does drop back to throw. Ideally Georgia would slow down Florida’s running game enough to force Driskel to beat them with his arm. But even if the Bulldogs can’t do that -- nobody else has, after all -- they can’t let him run circles around them the way Shaw did in Columbia.
4. Soft or not?
The headline du jour for this week emerged Monday night when safety Shawn Williams told reporters that Georgia’s defense is “soft up front” and that he would prefer for linebackers Alec Ogletree and Amarlo Herrera to play over seniors Michael Gilliard and Christian Robinson at all times. Williams angered some of his defensive teammates by going public with his criticism, but they vowed to turn their agitation into a more aggressive brand of football -- something Georgia’s struggling defense could certainly use.
5. Staying close on special teams
Perhaps the biggest disparity between the two teams is that Florida has been excellent on special teams this season and Georgia has been highly inconsistent. It’s not so much that Georgia has to do anything excellent in the special-teams department to win the game. It’s that the Bulldogs can’t make any huge blunders that result in a loss.
19hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough