- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The persistent story for Georgia over the last month has been the seemingly endless list of key players sidelined by injuries -- a dilemma that looks a bit sunnier this week as the Bulldogs (4-3, 3-2 SEC) prepare to face arguably their biggest rival, Florida (4-3, 3-2).
For starters, All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley seems ready to play for the first time since spraining his ankle in a Sept. 28 win against LSU. If you wonder why the Bulldogs seem to have a bit more bounce in their step, the return of one of the nation's best running backs is one of their biggest reasons for optimism.
“I did see a little bit of that today,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Wednesday's practice. “A couple guys had a conversation saying it was kind of nice to have the big guy back. Because if you know Todd, he's just a fun guy to be around. He'll be in the huddle and he'll be cutting up a little bit and keeping things loose. I think they might have missed that. Not as much as his ability to run the ball, but they missed that part of him, too.”
Gurley rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown against Florida's stout defense a season ago, so adding him back to the mix with freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- both of whom are also back to full speed after dealing with injuries recently -- will be a major factor on Saturday.
“Todd's been resting for over a month now it seems and the two other guys had a week off, so I think we're have a pretty good understanding of what we can do with that attack,” tight end Arthur Lynch said. “And I think Todd will be 100 percent as will the other guys, so if we can run the ball I think it will help us significantly.”
It appears that receiver Michael Bennett -- who caught a key fourth-down touchdown pass against the Gators in 2011 -- is also on track to return this week, as are safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews. That's a striking difference from the injury issues at Florida, which grew Wednesday when the Gators revealed that left tackle D.J. Humphries will miss Saturday's game, adding to the problems for a team that has already lost eight players to season-ending injuries.
The two battered teams enter the game unranked and on matching two-game losing streaks, so Saturday's meeting will hardly occupy its typical spot on the national radar. At best, the winner still has an outside shot of running down No. 9 Missouri (7-1, 3-1) in the SEC East race.
“This game's probably a lot more important to us and Florida than it is to the rest of the country right now, obviously -- both being out of the top 25 and for all intents and purposes out of the national championship hunt,” Richt said. “I think we still, we're both dark horses in the Eastern Division race right now, but again like I've been saying all along, I think we're still in the race and we'd like to stay that way.”
And it's still Georgia-Florida, one of the nation's most heated rivalries, even when BCS implications are not in play.
“It grows on you, and all you need is one game to really fall in love with the hatred that everyone here has for Florida, and it's not a one-way street. They legitimately hate us too,” said Lynch, a native of Massachusetts. “It's pretty interesting because it's nothing like I've ever seen before.
“I told myself I'd never fall into that cliché Southern mentality of football this, football that, but when it comes to Georgia and Florida, you have a deep-rooted hate that it seems like I've had since I was a little kid, and I didn't start coming to Georgia games until I started playing in them.”
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