SEC clash storylines: No. 6 Florida vs. No. 8 Georgia

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Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman (4) is tackled by Florida defenders during last year's game at TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Who: No. 6 Florida (7-1, 4-1 SEC) vs. No. 8 Georgia (6-1, 3-1)

When: 3:30 p.m.

Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Line: Georgia by 6 1/2.

Series record: Debatable. Georgia counts a victory in 1904 and says it leads 52-43-2. Florida insists it didn’t compete at the varsity level until 1906 and calls it 51-43-2.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

It’s essentially an elimination game for the College Football Playoff, with the winner moving a step closer to securing a spot in the conference title game in Atlanta. The “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” has helped determine who goes to the league’s showcase event nine times in the last 13 years. Missouri still controls its destiny in the Eastern Division, but Florida and Georgia like their chances with a win today.

Giving up on the run?

Despite the Gators’ lack of production in the running game throughout the season, UF coach Dan Mullen has stuck with it and the move eventually led to huge plays — 88 and 75-yard TD runs — in the wins over Auburn and South Carolina. But, will he give up on it today against the best run defense in the SEC? The Bulldogs are giving up only 85.7 yards a game on the ground and have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown. Odds are, the Gators are not going to be able to run the ball today. Earlier this week, Mullen said his philosophy is always to, “highlight the strengths of our players.” That strength is throwing and catching the football. So, look for the Gators to be airborne most of the afternoon.

Grantham’s take on UF-UGA

Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has a unique perspective of the Florida-Georgia rivalry because he’s experienced it from both sides. First, as the defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs from 2010-13 and now in the same role with the Gators for the second season. He has a 2-3 record in the rivalry — 2-2 at UGA and 0-1 at UF. “I think it’s an awesome environment because that’s why you work and grind and do the things you do because you know it’s a bowl type atmosphere,” Grantham said. “It’s probably the loudest that place gets all year, and it’s pretty dynamic that way. There’s a lot of energy in it, and obviously there’s a lot riding on the game itself with two Top-10 teams. The combination of the quality of teams, the pageantry, the passion of the fans, the energy, the fact that it’s basically 50/50 as far as the fans go, as far as who’s in the game, it creates a lot of energy and excitement and it’s fun to play in.”

Gators healthy, fully loaded

For maybe the first time this season, the Gators will be playing with their full complement of players with the return of injured starters Jon Greenard, Jabari Zuniga and Kadarius Toney — and no expected suspensions. Mullen said earlier in the week he’d like to see what type of team this is when the Gators are healthy and pretty much have every player available. Today, he may have that chance. The big question is at what percent are those three injured players, and what kind of impact can they actually have?

KEY MATCHUP

Florida’s defensive front vs. the Georgia running game: With the fast and elusive D’Andre Swift lining up behind Georgia’s huge and experienced offensive line, the Bulldogs have the most potent ground game in the SEC, averaging 237.1 yards a game. Swift is averaging a league-best 107.7 yards a game, and he’s just one of four backs with big-time talent. The others are Brian Herrien, Zamir White and James Cook. So, the Bulldogs are going to try and pound the ball against a UF defensive front that has been vulnerable against the run the past two games. The difference today is both starting defensive ends — Greenard and Zuniga — are back from injuries. They could make a huge difference. Even with players missing from the front throughout the season, the Gators are still fourth in the SEC in rushing defense, giving up just 124.1 yards a game. If they can hold Georgia closer to their average than the ‘Dogs average, the Gators have a chance to walk away with a win.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Georgia: QB Jake Fromm wasn’t good in a loss to South Carolina in mid-October, throwing three interceptions and getting sacked three times. But his performance against Florida last year was memorable because he threw three TD passes — all on third down.

Florida: WR Kadarius Toney returns after missing six consecutive games with a shoulder injury. The Gators found ways to move the ball and score without him, but they have no one on the field as elusive as the speedy junior.

BROTHERLY LOVE

Georgia’s Swift and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts share Philadelphia roots and are friends even though they didn’t attend the same high school. Swift said the two talked last week during their team’s bye.

“I know him real well,” Swift said. “I just told him good luck and keep doing his thing. He’s a great player.”

PASSING GATORS

Florida will test Georgia’s secondary — and for good reason. The Gators feel like passing plays to their strength. It also appears to be the better option against Georgia, which is the only team in the country — at any level in college football — that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season.

The Bulldogs lead the SEC and rank fifth nationally in rushing defense, allowing a measly 85.7 yards a game. Even more staggering, they haven’t allowed a rusher to score on them.

HOSTING RECRUITS

Georgia coach Kirby Smart would like the conference to allow teams to be able to host recruits at neutral-site games. The inability to do so is the main reason Smart suggested the Bulldogs would benefit from moving the game in Jacksonville to campuses.

But getting the league to alter the rule is considered a long shot.

“What do you think those other teams are going to do with that?” Smart asked. “I’m petitioning right now. If you’re Alabama and you’re Tennessee, are you going to help Florida and Georgia out? I don’t think they’re going to go for that.”

FACTS & FIGURES

Top-10 matchup for the second straight year. … Both teams are coming off a bye week for only the eighth time in series history. … Four former players inducted into the Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame: Jarvis Jones and Rennie Curran for the Bulldogs; Brad Culpepper and Brandon Spikes for the Gators. … Georgia is 6-3 against top-10 teams during coach Kirby Smart’s four seasons. Florida is 3-2 against top-10 teams during coach Dan Mullen’s two years. … The Gators have won six games under Mullen after trailing in the fourth quarter, including three (Miami, Kentucky, South Carolina) this season. … Florida expects to get its top two pass rushers, Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, back after missing games with high-ankle sprains. … The team with the most rushing yards has won the Florida-Georgia game each of the last 13 years.

Today’s game questions

1. Can the Gators hold elite running back D’Andre Swift to less than 120 yards rushing?

2. Will the deep and talented UF receivers, including tight end Kyle Pitts, be able to make plays against a sound Georgia secondary?

3. Can the UF offensive line protect Kyle Trask and also get some push in the running game?

4. The Gators have lost the turnover battle in each of the past two years, both loses. Can they win it today?

5. What kind of impact will Florida’s returning stars — slot receiver Kadarius Toney and defensive ends Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga — have on the game?

Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers

Andreu’s pick

Florida 24, Georgia 23

(Season record: 7-1)


The Associated Press contributed to this report

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