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October 31, 2008

Florida, Georgia have plenty to play for

MORE: Florida-Georgia video preview

Everyone is in a bunch over a dogpile but no one at Georgia or Florida is talking about it.

After scoring a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead last season against the Gators, most of Georgia's sideline emptied to rush the field for a mass celebration in the end zone at the behest of coach Mark Richt, no less. The antics drew a penalty. But Richt was trying to motivate his players and send a message. It worked: Georgia won 42-30.

After the game, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes called it a "big disrespect." In a book released over the summer, Gators coach Urban Meyer said, "We'll handle it. And it's going to be a big deal."

But mum was the word this week.

"I think it's old news and it has no bearing on this year's game," Meyer said. "It's two teams battling for the SEC East."

"I won't have anything to say about it," Richt said.

But the winner of this season's edition of the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" along the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville will send a loud-and-clear message that it is the best team in the SEC East and still in position to grab a spot in the BCS title game.

This will be just the fifth time in this storied rivalry that both teams are ranked in the top 10. Florida (6-1) has won 15 of the past 18 meetings, while Georgia is aiming for consecutive wins in the series for the first time since 1988-89.

These are two fast, athletic teams that can do it all. And each is on a roll. Since losing 31-30 to Ole Miss, the Gators have outscored foes 152-33 in winning three in a row. Since losing 41-30 to Alabama, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 102-66 in winning three in a row. With so much on the line, motivation won't be an issue for either team. Still, you have to think Florida is still seething over Georgia's antics.

"They probably are, but it's not going to help them win the game," Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno said. "Both sides of the ball if we just play the best that we can play, we should be OK."

Georgia run offense vs. Florida run defense

Youth is being served along a Bulldogs offensive line that has featured four starting combinations. But things are settling down. A unit that starts two true freshmen (LG Cordy Glenn and C Ben Jones), a redshirt freshman (RT Justin Anderson) and two sophomores (RG Chris Davis and LT Clint Boling) will be starting together for the third consecutive game at the same positions. TB Knowshon Moreno leads the SEC in rushing yards (925) for an offense with the SEC's No. 4 ground game (172.5 ypg). He'll be going against an athletic Florida front seven. The Gators are No. 3 in the SEC in rush defense (102.7 ypg). LB Brandon Spikes is the standout. Florida's tackles have played better than expected, and sophomores Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders must continue to make their presence known.
EDGE: Even

Georgia pass offense vs. Florida pass defense

HISTORY LESSON
Georgia and Florida meet for the fifth time with both ranked in the top 10. Here are the other outcomes.
1976: No. 7 Georgia 41, No. 10 Florida 27
1983: No. 4 Georgia 10, No. 9 Florida 9
1984: No. 10 Florida 27, No. 8 Georgia 0
1999: No. 5 Florida 30, No. 10 Georgia 14

It's all starting to come together for QB Matthew Stafford, who has thrown for 754 yards and five touchdowns in the past three games. The Bulldogs' passing attack (258.8 ypg) and offense (431.2 ypg) pace the SEC. The Bulldogs have given up only nine sacks in eight games. That has allowed Stafford to find targets such as sensational freshman A.J. Green, who has an SEC-best 39 catches. And Georgia will have another big target if TE Tripp Chandler is able to play after missing the past three games with a shoulder injury. A Florida secondary that starts three sophomores and a true freshman has been outstanding. The Gators lead the SEC in pass-efficiency defense. But Florida hasn't encountered a quarterback the likes of Stafford. Consider this: The Gators have faced just one other quarterback who was a returning starter, Arkansas' Casey Dick. Every other Florida foe was playing with a first-year starter under center. The Gators have 16 sacks and they would like to get pressure without having to resort to blitzes.
EDGE: Georgia

Florida run offense vs. Georgia run defense

The Gators' never-ending quest for a consistent running game appears to have ended. The line has improved, though Ole Miss stuffed the box and caused Florida fits with its blitzes. No doubt, Georgia which has the No. 6 rush defense in the country (76.9 ypg) took notes. Still, Florida's rushing attack ranks No. 2 in the SEC (196.0 ypg). One key to UF's improvement on the ground is the emergence of true freshman speedster Jeffrey Demps, who averages 11.9 yards per carry and has scored four touchdowns in the past three games. Demps ran the 100 meters in 10.01 seconds in the spring, making him the fastest high school sprinter in U.S. history. Redshirt freshman Chris Rainey is another speedy, reliable option. WR Percy Harvin has rushed for three TDs this season. Also, sophomore Emmanuel Moody may be available after being out since the Ole Miss game with a high ankle sprain. Still, when it comes to crunch time and getting a tough yard, Florida still turns to QB Tim Tebow. The Bulldogs have one of the most active and athletic linebacking corps in America, led by Rennie Curran and Darryl Gamble, who is coming off a 13-tackle, two-interception effort against LSU. Georgia could get a lift if Dannell Ellerbe is over a knee injury that has caused him to miss the past three games.
EDGE: Even

Florida pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense

The Gators don't take many shots downfield. Rather, Tebow and Co., prefer to dink-and-dunk. It is working for an offense that has scored in double-digits in seven of the past nine quarters. Harvin is a big play waiting to happen. Aaron Hernandez is a move-the-chains tight end. Louis Murphy is an underutilized deep threat. Good news for the Gators: Georgia ranks 11th in the SEC (221.3 ypg) against the pass and has yielded 13 passing TDs.
EDGE: Florida

Georgia special teams vs. Florida special teams

Other than spotty kickoff coverage, Florida's units are outstanding. It all starts with TB Brandon James, a home-run threat in the return game. He averages 20.2 yards per punt return, with two TDs, and 28.8 per kickoff return. Kicker Jonathan Phillips has hit all nine of his field-goal attempts. Last week, Florida blocked two punts and a field goal against Kentucky, giving them five blocks this season. Georgia has no answer to James in the return game. True freshman Blair Walsh has been a solid kicker, nailing 12 of 17 field-goal attempts. But he has hit just two of his past five attempts. Punters Chas Henry (Florida) and Brian Mimbs (Georgia) are two of the best in the SEC.
EDGE: Florida

Georgia coaches vs. Florida coaches

Who's better: Urban Meyer or Mark Richt? It's like choosing between steak and lobster. You can't go wrong. Meyer already has a national championship. Richt has two SEC titles and three SEC championship game appearances on his dossier. Each staff also is littered with star assistants. There is Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, a bright mind and future head coach, and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who has forged a unit that has helped the Gators rank third in the nation in turnover margin. Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo continues to grow into his role, and defensive coordinator Willie Martinez is on the precipice of being a head coach.
EDGE: Even

Georgia will win if: Moreno rips through Florida like he did last season, when he carried 33 times for 188 yards and three TDs. He is a proven big-game commodity who is capable of carrying a big load. Moreno, who ran for 163 yards in a win over LSU last week, can wear down the Gators' defense, setting up play-action passes for Stafford and keeping Tebow on the sideline for extended stretches.

Florida will win if: Tebow and Harvin don't have to be Supermen. No doubt both are special, but Florida needs complementary players such as Demps, Rainey, Hernandez and Murphy to play big roles against a fast and aggressive Georgia defense.

X-Factor James could give Florida a special-teams score or several short fields for the offense. The diminutive (5-7/186) speed demon is one of the nation's most electrifying return men.

Expert picks

Olin Buchanan: Georgia 35, Florida 28
Tom Dienhart: Georgia 28, Florida 24
David Fox: Florida 35, Georgia 28
Mike Huguenin: Florida 31, Georgia 24
Steve Megargee: Florida 31, Georgia 27

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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