Georgia has faced a lot of adversity throughout the past couple of months and has no recent luck as of late with injuries piling up.
It all started with the decision of Wake Forest grad transfer quarterback, Jamie Newman, announcing his decision to opt-out of the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID-19.
That decision led to redshirt sophomore D’Wan Mathis getting the start against Arkansas over USC transfer JT Daniels, who wasn’t cleared to play yet. Mathis struggled on his first six drives against the Razorbacks and that’s when the coaching staff threw backup Stetson Bennett into the game.
Bennett lead the Bulldogs to victory and had a sensational story basically going from ‘zero to hero’ overnight. He played well up until halftime against Alabama and after that is when the criticism started.
After a terrible performance against the Crimson Tide in the second half, fans and media members started to question if he could lead the Bulldogs to the promised land; which is of course is the College Football Playoff and the chance to compete for a national title.
Bennett was given another shot against Kentucky last weekend but threw two interceptions in Georgia’s 14-3 victory. Fans were upset with the offense’s overall poor showing. On top of all the offensive disappointment, Georgia had a slew of players get injured against the Wildcats.
Most of those injured players happened to be on the defensive side of the ball, which is Georgia’s stronghold of the team. Matters then got worse when the team learned that one of its leaders, senior safety Richard LeCounte, was involved in a motor vehicle accident late Saturday night. He was rushed to the hospital with a concussion and bruised ribs.
All that leaves the fanbase with uncertainty about their team’s matchup with arch-rival Florida, who has one of the best offenses in the conference led by quarterback Kyle Trask. Georgia’s defense should be able to handle its injuries as the unit is very stout on the depth chart, but the main concerns surround the offense. The Bulldogs have only scored 14 points in the last six quarters, while Bennett has thrown five interceptions in that timeframe.
All of these struggles led the players to hold a ‘players-only’ meeting earlier this week in preparation for the Gators. The meeting was led by senior inside linebacker Monty Rice, who is the team’s second-leading tackler.
Rice evidently had a lot to say about the state of Georgia football heading into Saturday’s matchup in Jacksonville.
“He talked to the team earlier this week,” said sophomore linebacker Nakobe Dean. “He addressed the team about how guys have to step up and definitely play well with guys being out and everything. Being at the midpoint of the season, and how we have to start elevating our game.”
As mentioned before, Georgia will be without LeCounte, but they also will be without redshirt senior defensive lineman Julian Rochester. Alongside him, junior nose tackle Jordan Davis could be missing in action as well. Also, all points indicate the offense missing running back Kenny McIntosh, who was one of the best kick returners in the country before he hurt his knee against Alabama.
“He talks to the team regularly, not all the time, but he always talks to the team,” said Dean. “Of course, it had an effect. Hopefully, it hit a lot of the younger guys and knowing that they have to step up. We are going to need them more this season than they probably thought we would.”
According to the University of Florida, this is the 98th meeting between the two schools. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 53-42-2. This game is viewed as one of the season’s most important matchups every year, and the younger contributors on both teams may not understand the seriousness of the rivalry.
Dean is from Horn Lake, Miss., and has had no prior affiliation with this game, but he said that since he’s arrived on campus, he now fully understands the rivalry.
“Well, for me personally, I hadn’t any contact from former players about how important this game was,” said Dean. “D’Walk (D’Andre Walker) actually came and talked to the team this Tuesday. He actually came yesterday and basically spilled out his heart on how he felt about certain things going on with us and everything. So, for me, I didn’t personally know him and everything because left before I got here. But just hearing him talk, I could tell it was coming from his heart.”
Walker played at Georgia from 2015-2018, so he played under both Mark Richt and current head coach Kirby Smart. Walker was a huge part of Georgia’s success during his four years in Athens and was 2-2 against the Gators in his collegiate career. So, having a former leader of the team to speak about the seriousness of this game is a great move by the coaching staff.
Georgia junior running back James Cook knows exactly how important Saturday is.
“We’ve got to keep it up and keep going,” Cook said. “We’ve just got to win out.”
Warren Ericson, a redshirt offensive linemen, hasn’t even played a snap against the Gators in his previous two years at Georgia, but knows what has to be done.
“This rivalry is a big deal for me personally because both my parents went to Florida, Ericson said. “I grew up watching this game longer than I can remember. Now I get to be a part of it. I definitely take that as a treasure. We’re just really excited to go and play another great team.”
Senior defensive Mark Webb is confident that the defense can perform well without LeCounte.
“I feel the team is doing well right now,” Webb said. “The people behind (LeCounte), Chris Smith is doing the things he needs to do. I feel like we’re in a good position.”
Ultimately, Georgia will need to win the rest of their regular season games to be able to play in the SEC Championship. It seems like even after all the unfortunate events that have surrounded the program, the Bulldogs are ready to face the Gators.
“It’s going to be a huge game; it’s been a collection of everyone,” said Ericson. “We all want this game and know how big this rivalry is. We know we have to play hard and play some Georgia football.”