Florida-Georgia: The Serious Preview

Well, I had my fun yesterday, but it’s time to do this for real.

A lot of people have gone through the numbers of the teams so far, as well as what is on the line. That much everyone knows, so I’m going to skip that if that’s all right with everyone.

I have been attending Florida football games since I was four years old in 1989, and I’ve been to a good number of Georgia games along the way. I am very fortunate to have a father who’s had season tickets since 1978.

I spoke to him last night, and I could tell in his voice that he wants this weekend’s game badly. But then, he always wants Georgia games badly.

He went to college at UF in the ’70s and as I mentioned has had season tickets all throughout the ’80s. He can remember the way Vince Dooley had tremendous success against Florida year in and year out, the Buck Belue/Lindsay Scott play, and the way Herschel Walker ran all over the Gators.

Well, Vince Dooley coached just three seasons in my lifetime. Herschel left school before my older brother was born. Belue found Scott before my parents even found each other. In other words, the greatest moments for Georgia in the series all happened before my time.

Don’t confuse me for those Gator fans who think that nothing occurred in the rivalry before 1990 though. I have read up a lot on the history of the series, and I am well aware of the way that Georgia has dominated it for long stretches. I’ve read the tales, heard the stories, and seen the scores.

That said, there’s a difference between head knowledge and experience. I simply had not experienced any of it, so I knew about it, but didn’t know it. The couple times that Florida lost to Georgia in 1997 and 2004, I was upset like after any loss. They were right after Florida won national championships though, and the 2004 game was during week that Ron Zook got fired, so that softened it a bit. And since Georgia wasn’t in the habit of beating Florida that often, they didn’t feel that different from losses to LSU or Auburn.

I could remember FSU and Tennessee both taking home national titles and winning games that prevented UF from doing so. Georgia had years when it had better teams than Florida, 2002 immediately jumps to mind, but Florida just kept on winning. You even had the 2005 season where the Gators almost certainly would have lost had D.J. Shockley not missed the game with injury. It was the only game he missed that year.

Florida’s winning trend under three different coaches definitely had an effect on the Bulldog side from what I could tell. I mean, after the 2005 game a Georgia fan came up to the section of the Gator Band I was in as we left the stadium and said, “What’s the matter? How come you didn’t win by more?”

Granted the guy was probably plastered beyond belief, but those aren’t the words of a confident fanbase. That was supposed to be the year that the very streaky series would turn, but the extremely unfortunate timing of Shockley’s injury kept that from happening.

I bring all of that up because last season changed everything. It wasn’t just that Georgia won; that had happened twice before in my memory. It was the first time that I can remember where the Bulldogs were the aggressor, and where Florida wasn’t the bully. It’s not just related to the celebration incident, though that was a huge part of it, but the way the Bulldogs carried themselves in general throughout.

Georgia reignited things and made it a real rivalry again. The entire generation of Gator fans who were born from about 1980 on got to actually experience what used to happen. We knew that Steve Spurrier hated Georgia for a number of reasons, and we actually got to feel where that came from. But it wasn’t just Gator fans of Generation Y that the game was significant for.

When Urban Meyer came to UF, he did everything possible to embrace the school. He instituted the Gator Walk, started having the players sing the alma mater and fight song with the band after games, and even began referring to FSU solely as “The School out West.” He tried his best to talk the talk and walk the walk.

However, he hadn’t fully lived the Gator experience in the way that Spurrier did or any of the fans do. How could he? He spent all of his life in the upper Midwest except for brief coaching stints at Colorado State and Utah. He heard that Tennessee, Georgia, and FSU were the big rivals so he talked about them and prepared for them as such. But did they have extra meaning? Probably some as time went on, but likely not to a significant degree.

The celebration last season changed that. Meyer now has a reason to hate Georgia like Spurrier did. Whether he can parlay that into an amazing streak of success is anyone’s guess. However, anecdotal reports from people who say they know players indicate that he’s not just been his normal intense self at practice this week. He’s angry, and that could make all the difference.

Most folks are predicting a shootout tomorrow. Those prognostications bring to my mind the stat that the 72 combined points of last year’s game are the highest total ever in the series. These two teams aren’t exactly known for producing shootouts.

In fact, ever notice how when two highly-ranked teams come together with good offenses and everyone predicts a high-scoring shootout it usually doesn’t materialize? It happens quite a lot outside of this year’s Big 12 (see: Texas 45 – Oklahoma 35, etc.). I just get the feeling that we’re about to see that effect happen.

I expect to see a close game throughout, with neither team taking more than about a 10-point lead and certainly no more than 14. I would also be surprised to see both teams break 30. They each have good offenses sure, but they each have good defenses too. As long as Florida keeps getting production from its defensive line and Georgia fixes the bad tackling from the LSU game, these two won’t have much trouble keeping the score from getting out of hand.

I’m driving down to the game from Charlotte and staying Saturday night in a place up in Nassau County that doesn’t have reliable cell phone signal, much less a good Internet connection. I’m driving back up on Sunday, so this will be my last transmission for the weekend. No matter who wins or loses it’s always a great time in Jacksonville, so I hope the game remains there for a long time into the future.

As long as Florida’s offensive line gives Tim Tebow time and the running backs holes, I would expect a Florida win. That scenario would ensure the Gators could keep up when the Bulldogs score and take advantage of the times when they don’t. The six sacks that Georgia got last season jump out the most of any defensive stats for the game.

If you press me for a prediction, I’ll say Florida takes it 31-26. By no means am I discounting Georgia though; its a great team that has earned its top ten ranking. I’ve just seen Florida make far more improvements than Georgia has made since last season, and it was a just a five-point game for much of the fourth quarter.

Go Gators!

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