Remove the annual aspect of the upcoming Florida-Georgia showdown Oct. 27 in Jacksonville and the match-up fully comes into perspective.
Although the Gators and ’Dawgs meet in the same week of every season, the play on the field and the implications haven’t routinely lived up to the standard previously set by the two programs.
Last season it was the Gators getting embarrassed 42-7, and coach Jim McElwain was finished at UF less than 24 hours later. In 2015, it was then-UGA coach Mark Richt controversially starting Faton Bauta at quarterback in what ended up being a 27-3 win for the Gators. The series has seen more classics than clunkers over the past two decades, and Oct. 27 is poised to be the former rather than the latter.
“It’s a big game, but here’s my deal — I’ve never been in a Florida-Georgia game where it’s not a big game,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “I’ve coached in four of them and I can’t recall one that wasn’t a big game.”
As the players themselves balance rest with preparation in the bye week, the meeting with Georgia looms large, creating a sense of anxiety for a recuperating program.
UF is preparing for UGA as if it determines the team’s season — because it does.
However, the Gators aren’t approaching the match-up any differently. Whether it’s the “upcoming game is the most important” mentality, or the fact the Gators are well-versed in all the ’Dawgs bring to the field, the truth is that UF isn’t looking to add any additional emphasis to the contest simply due to Georgia’s top-10 ranking.
“I don’t think you look at them because it’s a big game, I think you just look at it because it’s the next opponent,” UF quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “I mean, yeah, you get antsy to watch your next opponent.”
That feeling of eagerness that Franks admits to is one the Gators have tried to avoid this week as they’ve emphasized healing, mentally and physically, in the preceding week before facing the Bulldogs. But it’s unavoidable — and unwise — for the Gators to rest on their laurels and wait until Monday to begin preparing for a showdown that will seemingly decide the SEC Eastern Division. Florida will have to win out and hope Kentucky falters down the stretch somewhere if the Gators are to capture the division, meaning preparation has been essential during the bye week for a UF program aiming to verify the previous seven weeks.
“We have started looking at a little bit of Georgia film,” sophomore defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe said Tuesday, adding there’s an upside that comes with the bye week aside from the decompression aspect. “This bye week, we’re going to use this as an advantage over the Georgia team.”
Conliffe is heading back to his home in Hampton, Virginia, for the weekend, where he’ll watch college football with his friends and family back home in an attempt to take a quick break from his own collegiate football grind and simply enjoy the game. Yet he doesn’t anticipate the ’Dawgs breaking off their metaphorical chain and running out of his mind any time soon.
“Still, you know we’re going to have them in the back of our mind. And then Monday, we’re back to work,” Conliffe said. “It’s a really big week for us, for preparation for next week. And we’re going to really take this week to heart, and really work.”