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Florida-Georgia Pregame Notebook: SEC East champion likely to be decided in 'Cocktail Party'

Special to Gatorsports.com
TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, site of today's Florida-Georgia game.

No. 8 Florida (3-1) vs No. 5 Georgia (4-1), today at 3:30 p.m. (CBS), TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville

Tickets: Sold out. Stadium parking lots will open at 12:30 p.m. and gates at 1:30 p.m. 

COVID-19 policy: The game will be played in front of a limited crowd of about 18,000. ... Policies for fans at Jaguars home games will be followed, including no admittance to parking lots without a ticket, face coverings for everyone in the stadium, mobile ticketing and cashless concession transactions. In addition, tailgating is prohibited. 

The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party won't be the same with limited attendance, but the stakes haven't changed.

The winner is likely to emerge from the SEC East to face Alabama in the conference title game. Florida seemingly has the edge behind a stellar offense led by quarterback Kyle Trask, and to make matters worse for Georgia, its dominant defense is dealing with injuries to starting safeties Richard LeCounte and Lewis Cine.

The reason for Gators fans to be worried is the play of their defense, which ranks 25th in efficiency and is allowing nearly 30 points per game. The Bulldogs offense isn't a scoring machine with Stetson Bennett IV at quarterback, but Georgia's rushing attack, led by stellar sophomore Zamir White, could make it a long day for Florida.

Both teams have a relatively easy path to get to 9-1 with a win Saturday. But unless they can significantly improve down the stretch, they're likely just playing for second place behind the Crimson Tide. The winner of this game has advanced to the league’s showcase event 10 times in the last 14 years.

KEY MATCHUP

Florida’s high-scoring offense versus Georgia’s stingy, but banged-up defense. The Gators are averaging 42 points a game thanks to quarterback Kyle Trask, dynamic receiver Kadarius Toney and matchup nightmare tight end Kyle Pitts. The Bulldogs are giving up 16.2 points a game and has been downright dominant in every game outside a 41-24 loss to No. 2 Alabama. Georgia, though, could be without as many as four defensive starters. Defensive back Richard LeCounte (motorcycle accident) and defensive lineman Julian Rochester (knee) are out. Safety Lewis Cine and defensive tackle Jordan Davis also are hobbled by injuries.

WELCOME BACK?

The Gators were without 15 players last week against Missouri, many of them because of COVID-19 test results and contact tracing. The list included three secondary starters: cornerback Marco Wilson and safeties Shawn Davis and Donovan Stiner. Backup cornerback Chester Kimbrough also was unavailable.

All of them could return against Georgia.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Florida: LB Brenton Cox gets his first shot at his former team and says facing Georgia will “definitely be personal.” Cox left the Bulldogs in August 2019, landed in Gainesville a few days later and then had to sit out last year under NCAA transfer rules. He’s been Florida’s best defensive player this season.

Georgia: QB Stetson Bennett has been far from perfect in the last two games, throwing a combined five interceptions against Alabama and Kentucky. No one would be shocked to see USC transfer JT Daniels or freshman Carson Beck come off the bench if Bennett struggles again.

FACTS & FIGURES

Georgia has won three straight and six of nine in the series. … The Bulldogs are the home team, which means they only got four at Sanford Stadium when the SEC went to a 10-game, league-only schedule. … Florida’s 168 points are its most in any four-game stretch in SEC play since 2008, when the eventual national champ totaled 178 in wins against Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Alabama. … Trask is tied for league lead with 18 TD passes and is the first in school history with at least four TD tosses in four consecutive games. ... Series record, Georgia counts a win in 1904 and says it leads 53-43-2. Florida insists it didn’t compete at the varsity level until 1906 and calls it 52-43-2. ... This year marks the third time in a row the two teams have met as AP top-10 teams, which has never happened before. ... Florida coach Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer from 2005-08 when the Gators beat the Dawgs three of four times. ... This is the 88th meeting in Jacksonville, with the series here on a continuous basis since 1933 -- except for the 1994 and 1995 games, which were played at the schools because of renovation to TIAA Bank Field.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.