Stakes are high for No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 8 Florida
The huge SEC East matchup between No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Florida is filled with uncertainty — injuries, suspensions and potential COVID-19 absences.
This much seems largely unaffected: the Florida offense.
The Bulldogs (4-1, 4-1 SEC) and Gators (3-1, 3-1) meet Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., as top-10 teams for the third consecutive season. Georgia is aiming for its fourth straight division title and fourth triumph in a row in this rivalry.
“It doesn’t clinch it or seal anything, but whoever wins this game certainly is putting themselves in the driver’s seat to get to Atlanta,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said.
The Gators’ best hope to end Georgia’s headlock and get to Atlanta for the SEC championship game is for quarterback Kyle Trask to continue to do what he’s doing.
The senior has thrown for 18 touchdowns — at least four in each game — and has completed 95 of 139 passes for 1,341 yards, with only two interceptions.
Tight end Kyle Pitts has 22 receptions, including seven for touchdowns.
“I don’t think anybody is stopping him,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Pitts, a matchup nightmare.
“It’s limiting explosives, matching up, winning some 50/50 balls — that’s what he’s best at. It’s impossible. People think you can just double cover him. You can’t do that. They put him in places where you can’t double him, and you’ve got to do other things to other people.”
Speedy receiver Kadarius Toney is one of those other people, with 22 catches for 297 yards and six scores. Florida is averaging 42.0 points per game.
Georgia’s stout defense gave up 40 points total in wins over Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky … but Florida’s offense more resembles Alabama, which put up 41 in a win over the Bulldogs. Georgia is fifth nationally in rushing defense (80.0 yards per game), while the Gators are seventh nationally in passing offense (342.8 yards per game).
The Bulldogs’ defense might be hurting.
Georgia will be without star safety Richard LeCounte, who was hospitalized after a motorcycle crash on the weekend, and defensive lineman Julian Rochester, who suffered a knee injury in Saturday’s 14-3 win at Kentucky.
Several others were injured in that game, adding to an injury list that includes wide receiver George Pickens. The status for several players was up in the air early this week.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who practice who don’t get to play who will get opportunities,” Smart said.
Florida will be at less than full strength, too — especially in the first half. Starting defensive lineman Zachary Carter and linebacker Antwuan Powell must sit for the first 30 minutes after they were ejected for fighting against Missouri. The Gators won 41-17, despite missing 15 players due to COVID-19 test results and contact tracing, which had forced a two-week layoff for the team.
On offense, Georgia is sticking with quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, although he has cooled after igniting the offense when he came off the bench in the opener. Bennett has thrown just two touchdowns with five interceptions in the past two games, which includes the 41-24 loss to Alabama.
Smart’s other options include opening-game starter D’Wan Mathis and USC transfer JT Daniels, now recovered from a 2019 ACL injury.
This version of the unofficially named “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” will be different — no tailgating and only about 17,000 in TIAA Bank Field — but the stakes are commonly high.
“It’s obviously a game we circle on our schedule every year,” Florida running back Dameon Pierce said. “We’ve been coming up short. We’re just going there with a chip on our shoulder.”
–Field Level Media