CeCe Jefferson and Martez Ivey sat on the sideline at TIAA Bank Field in 2017 and knew they had to come back for another season. As rumors swirled about their head coach and the game got away from Florida the two knew they couldn’t go out like that.
That’s how big the game is this Saturday.
It’s bigger than No. 6 vs. No. 8. It’s bigger than winning the SEC East. It’s bigger than the winner still having a chance to play their way into the College Football Playoff.
“It’s kind of personal for me,” senior receiver Tyrie Cleveland said this week.
Sure, the game at 3:30 Saturday will determine all of the things listed above. The winner is all but certain to wind up in Atlanta representing the SEC East and with one loss will have a chance to make it into the four-team playoff that determines a National Champion. The Gators start every season with their eyes set on those two things but Saturday is more than that.
Students and Gator fans all week have been asking, “Why does the St. Johns River flow North? Because Georgia Sucks!” Credit that one to Steve Spurrier but it’s the sentiment held by the entire Gator Nation 52 weeks a year, especially this one.
Last year those seniors returned for a chance to beat Georgia. They didn’t get it done and there is blood in the mouths of the players this year.
Nick Buchanan is winding down his career at Florida. The redshirt senior was recruited by Will Muschamp’s staff (Mike Summers), before committing to Jim McElwain and will start his last game against Georgia for Dan Mullen. The Georgia native has been through a lot in five years at Florida, including a 2-2 record against the Dawgs.
“This is the game that’s the only constant,” Buchanan said of his time at Florida. “It’s going to be after a bye week, the first Saturday after Halloween, it’s going to be on CBS at 3:30, in Jacksonville, in the Jags’ stadium. You can pretty much count on that every year.”
Last year the game slipped away from the Gators. The week began with rumors that Justin Fields could supplant Jake Fromm a the starting quarterback. Fromm threw three touchdowns and Fields is a Buckeye now. D’Andre Swift rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown and Dan Mullen said the Gators’ execution was the worst it had been all year to that point. There’s always, no matter the year and no matter what has happened to that point of the season, a slim margin for error in this game and the Gators found that out the hard way in a 36-17 loss.
This year Georgia is coming in reeling. The Dawgs lost to South Carolina and played Kentucky too close for comfort before pulling away late in the game. Florida lost three weeks ago to LSU but handled their business on the road at South Carolina the following week. It certainly seems that the Gators head into Jacksonville with more momentum.
Throw it all out the window.
Weird things happen in Jacksonville. Will Muschamp and Treon Harris beat the Bulldogs while throwing just six passes in 2014. It’s a weird series but it’ll be a hard-nosed game.
The Gators have the SEC’s best redzone defense. Georgia has the best redzone offense. The Dawgs offensive line is big enough to cast its own shade on a football field and nobody in the SEC runs the ball better than Georgia does.
“They’re massive. If you look at the film, there’s no way around it, there’s nothing bad you can say about Georgia’s o-line, there’s nothing bad you can say about Georgia’s team period,” Jon Greenard said. “All respect to them, but they’re a great team, we’re a great team too. It’s gonna be a really good matchup but we’re going in with a chip on our shoulder just because we lost last year, so all that’s just going to take into account and give us more motivation to get the dub.”
Still, throw the stats and conventional wisdom out the window. Florida-Georgia is personal. It’s that way for the fans, for the two coaching staffs and for the players on the field. This is a game that will determine so much for each team on the field. Somebody’s playoff hopes will die Saturday night on the St. Johns River. Somebody’s season will be ruined and 365’s worth of bragging rights will be determined.
“If you’re a top team and they’re a top team, they’re going to see who wins,” Greenard said. “If you don’t win, it’s obviously showing you can’t beat the best. That’s what’s going on.
Win or win, in our opinion. It’s a must-win situation.”