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Florida football: 5 storylines heading into Saturday's matchup with No. 1 Georgia

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
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The family ties in this year's annual border matchup between the Florida Gators and No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday in Jacksonville (3:30 p.m., CBS) run deep.

First-year Florida coach Billy Napier grew up in Chatsworth, Ga., surrounded by family and friends who were fans of the rival Bulldogs. As fond as they all are of Napier, their allegiance on Saturday will remain red and black, not orange and blue. 

"That's why college football is a great game, right," Napier said. "You got this cutthroat -- but, no, I mean, I think it's a fun game. Certainly, we got a lot of people that have passion for their teams. We'll have our fair share in the stadium Saturday."

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Two Florida players -- defensive lineman Brenton Cox Jr. and cornerback Jalen Kimber -- crossed the border as transfers from Georgia during their college careers.

Cox, from Stockbridge, Ga., is one of 10 players from Georgia on the UF roster.

“I actually just got some calls earlier from my people," Cox said. "They’re still Georgia fans, but they root for Florida. It’s kind of hard trying to figure out which side they’re on before the game. It’s all good. I’m just ready to play, telling them it’s going to be a show on both sides.”

The rivalry has been cyclical. Georgia leads the all-time series 53-44 (two ties). Florida went through a stretch from 1990-2011 when it went 18-3 against the Bulldogs. But Georgia has won seven of the last 11 matchups. 

"We've got a good percentage that have played in this game," Napier said. "We got another percentage that grew up watching the game. So we all understand the history and tradition behind this game."

Florida running back Dameon Pierce is tackled by the Georgia defense during the 2020 game in Jacksonville.

Here are five storylines to watch for Saturday's game:

Bennett vs. Richardson quarterback matchup

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV and Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson will square off for the second straight time in the rivalry game.  Bennett got the best of the first meeting, but wasn't overwhelming, going 10 of 19 for 161 yards with 1 TD and 2 interceptions.

Richardson admitted he had jitters making his first career start and it showed, as he completed 12 of 20 passes for 82 yards with 2 interceptions before being benched for Emory Jones.

After leading Georgia to a national title, Bennett has played with confidence this season as a sixth-year super senior, passing for 2,033 yards with 7 TDs to 1 interception. He's also hurt teams in the red zone with 5 rushing TDs.

Florida will look to keep Bennett contained in the pocket so he can't make plays with his legs. “It’s very important when you’re dealing with a mobile quarterback," Cox said. "That’s pretty much everybody we’ve been playing since Week One. Everybody has been mobile, so you have to stay in your rush lane. That’s the most important factor.”

O'Cyrus Torrence and line of scrimmage

Florida's offensive line, bolstered this week by the return of preseason All-American right guard O'Cyrus Torrence, has allowed just five sacks in seven games, the fewest in the SEC and fifth fewest in FBS. 

Georgia's front seven lost six players to the first three rounds of the NFL Draft last spring, including defensive end Trayvon Walker, who went first overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Georgia also likely will be without standout Jalen Carter, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury. The Bulldogs have recorded an SEC-low 7 sacks this season but have been outstanding against the run, limiting teams to an SEC-best 83.29 yards per game.

"We've played some good defenses," Florida starting right tackle Austin Barber said. "This is a stellar defense. But I just feel like if we get our technique right, our fundamentals right, we can run it with anybody. So I feel like it's going to be us, not them, to see if we run the ball or not."

Florida has had its own issues getting heat on the quarterback with 13 sacks in seven games this season, which ranks 7th in the SEC. 

Covering Georgia's TEs Brock Bowers, Darnell Washington

Georgia's tight end combo of Brock Bowers (26 catches, 393 yards, 2 TDs) and Darnell Washington (16 catches, 285 yards) is the best that Florida has seen since the Utah combo of Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid in week one.

Kuithe and Kincaid combined for 11 catches for 134 yards and 1 TD against the Gators in UF's 29-26 win over the Utes. Florida is going to need to do a better job keeping Georgia's tight ends in check. 

Gators' defensive adjustments

Florida is coming off a game two weeks ago in which it allowed 45 points and 528 yards of offense in a 45-35 loss to No. 20 LSU. The Gators allowed LSU to convert on 8 of its first 9 third-down attempts and are next to last in FBS in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 52.58 percent of the time.

The Gators had the bye week to make adjustments, which also allowed defensive players to do some soul-searching and take ownership on trying to solve the problem.

"You just have to stay together," Cox said. "At this point, it’s like our backs are against the wall. Our team has gotta fight against theirs. We just have to stick together and gain more confidence as we go. That’s the best we can do.”

Kirby Smart's recruiting and The Talent Gap

Georgia has recruited 27 five-stars since Smart's first full class in 2017. The Gators have landed just two five-stars during the same span. The talent and depth in all position groups is the reason why Georgia enters the matchup a 22.5-point favorite.

It's something that Napier will look to remedy through recruiting, but it may take time. Florida's 2023 recruiting class currently ranks 8th in the nation and received a boost this week when four-star offensive lineman Roderick Kearney flipped his commitment from Florida State to Florida. Also, five-star cornerback Cormani McLean of Lakeland is expected to commit to the Gators this week, further boosting the class.

"I like the group that we've got committed," Napier said. "We need to finish, obviously secure the ones we have and then close on a few others, right? So we worked extremely hard at it, not only the recruitment process, but the evaluation process. So far so good. A lot of work left to do."

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