What a setup for this old rivalry in Jacksonville.
Both Georgia and Florida head to the old Gator Bowl, TIAA Bank Field, with identical 6-1 overall marks and Southeastern Conference records of 4-1. The Bulldogs and Gators both have the potential to do something special this season, and the path to greatness, not surprisingly, winds through this unparalleled setting, with the crowd of over 80,000 split in half.
First-year Florida coach Dan Mullen, offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow and a great run of Gators success, has produced excellent results thus far in 2018. On September 8, a stunning loss at home to Kentucky in the second week of the season broke a 31-game winning streak over the Wildcats that dated back to 1986. But Florida has recovered, and Kentucky is really good. The Gators amassed wins over Tennessee and Mississippi State on the road and beat LSU 27-19 in the swamp. Last time out, things didn’t look good for Florida in Nashville. With the open date and the Bulldogs looming, the Gators turned the ball over and fell behind Vanderbilt 21-3. The Gators would storm back and win 37-27, the largest deficit overcome by Florida in a road win in school history.
Florida heads to Jacksonville with tremendous momentum, with the winning streak now at five games.
Meanwhile, defending SEC champion Georgia suffered its first loss of the season in Baton Rouge, falling to LSU 36-16 a week after Florida topped the Bayou Bengals.
Undone by uncharacteristic special teams miscues, turnovers and missed opportunities, Georgia ran into an LSU squad that came through with an excellent performance, resulting in a disappointing day for the Bulldogs.
Third-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who led the Bulldogs to a 42-7 win over the Gators last season, will drive his team to regroup, respond and deliver. It’s a similar position the Bulldogs were in last season following a 40-17 loss to Auburn.
That great veteran Georgia team responded with routs of Kentucky and Tech, then a rematch SEC Championship Game victory over Auburn, followed by a berth in the College Football Playoff.
For this Georgia team, which is comprised of a roster that features just under 70 percent freshmen and sophomores, this bounce-back test against an arch enemy will test its resiliency.
The winner of this one can certainly dream big on Saturday night got before getting ready for that next test. For the loser, a fine season can still be attained, but a date in the SEC Championship Game would likely have to wait another year.