Saturday, EverBank Field’s playing area will represent a boxing ring.
The rival heavyweight pugilists, Florida and Georgia, will exchange haymakers and body blows throughout the day via the ground game, unrelenting until the other can not answer the referee’s count.
It’s a rivalry fueled by grit and won in the trenches, a physical contest the participants not only are prepared for, but also welcome.
“All of the backs hope we could contribute a whole lot,” Gators running back Kelvin Taylor said. “Me, Matt Jones, Mack Brown, all of us. We’re just ready to take the load and ready to pretty much have probably the best game of our season.”
No matter the prolific passers that have played at both schools, the rivalry has been dictated in the trenches. Bulldogs running back Charlie Trippi ran for 239 in 1945, fourth in school history for the most individual rushing yards in a game. In fifth is Herschel Walker, who ran for 238 against the Gators in 1980.
Florida running back Errict Rhett set the record for most carries in a game (41) in the 1993 matchup. Since 2000, the Gators have ran for over 150 yards eight of the 14 times they have played Georgia. Running the ball is not only something frequent with this series, but something for the team to latch onto as they search for an identity on offense. When Florida’s passing game was ineffective last year, the team shifted their attention to the running backs.
“If we have to do the same thing this year against every team then that’s what we’re going to do,” Offensive lineman Max Garcia said. “But it has been our strong point this season is running the ball, so why not do it?”
Defending the running game is also something Florida will have to do if they want to defeat their rival in Jacksonville. The Gators are third in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 117.7 yards per game. Their defense has spent the last two weeks preparing for a Bulldog offense that is third in the SEC in rushing and averages 265.9 yards per play. Georgia freshman running back Nick Chubb has played well in the absence of junior Todd Gurley, and although Gurley will miss two more games due to NCAA violations, the Gators know Georgia’s current players will present a challenge.
“Everybody knows they like to run and they get in that two-back set and they just try to pound it,” Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “We’ve been working hard on it this week and making sure that we take the necessary steps to go and stop the run game and I feel that we’ve been doing pretty good in practice doing that.”
Going into Saturday’s contest Florida’s running game will feature multiple backs, many of which run a similar style. The team will also look to get freshman back Brandon Powell into the rotation. This season Powell’s speed and ability to catch out of the backfield has given the team an added dimension to the offense.
However, Saturday’s game against Georgia will be a championship bout in the trenches fought by many of the bigger backs, like many of the games before. While smaller backs have contributed well, the bigger backs frequently seen in the conference have been critical, according to head coach Will Muschamp.
“Well, I think it’s no different than when you’re buying a boxing ticket,” Muschamp said. “Do you buy it to go see the featherweights fight or the heavyweights? Heavyweights.”