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From the Press Box - EverBank Field - 31-Oct-2015 (Photo by Murray Poole)
From the Press Box – EverBank Field – 31-Oct-2015
(Photo by Murray Poole)
[su_spacer size=”40″] Well, it’s Game Day here at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field, alias the old Gator Bowl, and the Georgia Bulldogs have compiled so many wonderful memories here down through the years, the most notable of course being the Buck Belue-to-Lindsay Scott 93-yard touchdown pass in the waning moments of the 1980 game, a play that will forever live in the hearts of the Bulldawg Nation because it propelled Georgia on to an unbeaten 12-0 record and the undisputed national championship that season.
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Likewise, the Bulldogs have also suffered some agonizing losses to the hated rivals from Gainesville, defeats that have prevented Georgia from winning the SEC and making it back to more national championship games.


Now as we move toward the kickoff of the 2015 Bulldogs-Gators clash − which will take place a little more than an hour from now − the stakes in this particular contest are indeed high once again. A Florida win would all but clinch the SEC East title for the surprising 6-1 Gators of first-year head coach Jim McElwain while a Georgia victory would give Mark Richt’s 5-2 Bulldogs the inside track to the division crown, needing only wins over remaining league foes Kentucky and Auburn to make it back to the Georgia Dome for the first time since the excruciating 2012 title game loss to Alabama.


But if Georgia vs. Florida itself, along with all the ramifications that go along with this game, wasn’t enough, there is now much intrigue in the Bulldog camp involving whether heretofore third-string quarterback Faton Bauta will replace Greyson Lambert as Georgia’s starting signal-caller against the Gators. The rumors have flown the past two weeks about Lambert getting steady reps with the No. 1 offensive unit and neither Richt nor offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have said anything to diffuse such talk.


If indeed Bauta does start the game, or simply relieve incumbent Lambert early on, it would provide the Bulldogs with a running QB threat such as they haven’t had since maybe the 1970s when Ray Goff ran the veer option to perfection and literally took the Gators apart in the 1976 Georgia-Florida game on this very same field. And though Bauta, who was numerous times compared to Florida legend Tim Tebow when  Bauta was a dual-threat prep quarterback in West Palm Beach, Fla., doesn’t have the passing arm that also backup Brice Ramsey − or even Lambert − does, he’s very capable of zipping first-down strikes to Georgia’s receivers, especially rolling out and throwing on the run. Said to be the hardest worker on the team,  the 6-3, 215-pound Bauta is also a personal favorite among his fellow players and one has to believe he could provide a definite spark to a Bulldog offense that has struggled mightily at times with Lambert at the controls this fall.


But whether it’s Bauta, Lambert, or even the seemingly forgotten Ramsey, that is barking the signals for Georgia today, the Bulldogs’ quarterback will have to perform to a high level against a Florida defense that possesses outstanding talent and speed on that side of the ball. If Georgia can’t throw the football well this afternoon, the Gators will no doubt load the box again and shut down the running of Sony Michel, Keith Marshall and Brendan Douglas. There again, that’s when the dual-threat skills of a Bauta could play a big role in the performance of the Bulldogs’ offense today.


And it goes without saying any success that Schotty’s unit has against the Vernon Hargreaves-led Florida defense must be complemented by an outstanding showing by Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive unit. To slow down a Gator offense that has seemed to get new life under McElwain this season, the Georgia stop-em crew will have to maybe play even better than it did in holding a punchless Missouri team to a pair of field goals two weeks ago.


As for the eventual winner, I’ve gone back and forth all week on this thing.  After the humiliating 38-20 beat-down by the Gators here in 2014, you’ve got to think the Bulldogs will be pumped today to inflict a measure of revenge on Florida while at the same time stay on the title game path to the ATL. Still, I’m concerned the somewhat perplexing Georgia offense will be able to put up enough points in order for the Bulldogs to get it done. And too, since my earlier predictions of Georgia beating both Alabama and Tennessee didn’t work out so well, I’m going with reverse psychology this time. I’m tabbing the Gators to win by 21-17 and maybe, just maybe, that will mean the Georgia Bulldogs are going to win today’s football game.
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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.