- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
NO. 10 GEORGIA VS. NO. 2 FLORIDA
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Records: Georgia 6-1 (4-1 SEC), Florida 7-0 (6-0)
Last week: Georgia beat Kentucky 29-24, Florida beat South Carolina 44-11
What’s the Story?: It has been few years since both Georgia and Florida entered the annual showdown in Jacksonville with hopes for an SEC East title still intact. But that’s the case this weekend for the second-ranked Gators and 10th-ranked Bulldogs. In fact, Florida clinches the division title with a win. Georgia would claim first place in the division with a victory, but it would still need to win out to ensure that it would defend its SEC East championship. In other words, no pressure.
• Read aboutfive storylines for the game.
Players to watch:
1. Jarvis Jones: Thanks to a series of injuries, Georgia’s All-America outside linebacker hasn’t looked like himself since briefly inserting himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation with a game-changing performance against Missouri. The Bulldogs’ defense has struggled mightily without a healthy Jones -- in fact, he sat out two games since the Mizzou win -- so it desperately needs him to return to his form from a season ago, like when he recorded four sacks against the Gators.
2. Aaron Murray: Georgia’s quarterback once again faced questions this week about his performance in big games (see our Insider story here) because of Georgia’s 2-8 record against top-25 teams since he became a starter. Murray is coming off one of the best performances of his career -- a 427-yard outing last week against Kentucky -- but the Bulldogs need a solid performance from him on Saturday against a much tougher Florida defense to change the narrative about the program’s status among the nation’s elite.
3. Shawn Williams: The senior safety ruffled some feathers in the locker room (Insider) when he told reporters on Monday that Georgia’s defense is “soft up front” and said linebackers Alec Ogletree and Amarlo Herrera should play ahead of seniors Michael Gilliard and Christian Robinson at all times. Williams is one of the team’s emotional leaders, but a lot more eyeballs will be on him this week. This is also a time for him to put up or shut up when it comes to on-field performance.
1. Jeff Driskel: The sophomore’s progress is perhaps the biggest factor in Florida’s turnaround this season. He has been an efficient passer -- last week he became the first FBS quarterback since at least 1996 to throw four touchdown passes without throwing for at least 100 yards -- in limited passing opportunities. But the bigger element of his success is how he helps power the Gators’ power running game. Driskel is second on the team with 321 rushing yards and has passed for 929 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. That’s an enormous change from last season, when erratic, turnover-filled play at quarterback created many of the Gators offense’s problems.
2. Loucheiz Purifoy: The sophomore cornerback set the tone in the South Carolina win by stripping the ball from Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw at the South Carolina 5 on the game’s first play -- a fumble that the Gators recovered and later turned into their first touchdown. Purifoy actually forced two fumbles against South Carolina and ranks fourth on the team with 27 tackles. The speedster is already one of the team’s top playmakers on defense and special teams and even chips in occasionally at receiver.
3. Mike Gillislee: Florida leans heavily on tailback Gillislee and its improved offensive line to provide enough offensive punch for its dynamic defense to do the rest. That has been a successful formula for the Gators to this point, with Gillislee ranking fifth in the SEC with 93.1 rushing yards per game (139 carries for 652 yards and seven touchdowns). Clearly he Gators will carry that ground-and-pound mentality into Saturday’s matchup with a Georgia defense that has been vulnerable on the ground. If the Gators’ rushing attack piles up big numbers on Saturday, they will almost certainly win the game.
Georgia’s defensive front vs. Florida’s offensive line/running game
Given the way Kentucky marched the ball straight down the field with its running game early last week against Georgia, Florida almost certainly attempt to do the same. The Gators are third in the SEC in rushing offense at 212.7 yards per game, while the Bulldogs are 10th in the league against the run, allowing 167.9 yards per game. As Georgia coach Mark Richt said earlier this week about the Florida game, “if you can’t stop the run, you’re done. If you can’t slow it down, you’re done.”
By the Numbers
1. 1988-89. After winning last season’s game against Florida 24-20, Georgia has a chance to beat the Gators in back-to-back seasons for the first time since winning three in a row between 1987 and 1989.
2. 108-21. Florida has outscored opponents 108-21 in the second half -- 57-8 in the third quarter and 51-13 in the fourth quarter. For purposes of comparison, Georgia has outscored opponents 143-61 in the second half.
3. 3. Florida recovered three fumbles last week against South Carolina -- its most in one game since a 21-14 win against Georgia in 2006. Richt has emphasized the importance of turnover margin in this rivalry in particular, as those giveaways are just one example where they decided the outcome.
On Deck: Georgia plays its first home game since beating Tennessee on Sept. 29 when it hosts Ole Miss next Saturday. Florida hosts struggling Missouri in Gainesville.