No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 6 Florida
When and Where: Saturday, Nov. 2, TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Fla., 3:30 p.m. EDT.
The inside track to the SEC Championship through the East Division is up for grabs Saturday when archrivals Georgia and Florida collide in Jacksonville, Fla.
The sixth-ranked Gators (7-1, 4-1 SEC East) and No. 8 Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1) are the only one-loss teams in the division, and the winner will get the upper hand in reaching the SEC title game -- which Georgia has done the last two years and Florida the two seasons before that. Since the conference broke off into divisions in 1992, either Georgia or Florida has represented the East in 17 of the 27 conference championship matchups.
While no longer officially called "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," fans from both schools will descend en masse upon Jacksonville. While TIAA Bank Field holds 84,000, usually double that many people are in the city for the game.
Based on their lone loss to South Carolina and crossover games versus Texas A&M and Auburn still to come, the Bulldogs have a tougher road to Atlanta for the SEC title game. Georgia is coming off its bye week hoping to have the offense back in gear, having ground out a 21-0 victory over Kentucky on Oct. 19 on a rain-drenched field.
D'Andre Swift rushed for a season-high 179 yards -- seven off his career-best -- and two touchdowns as Georgia had just 270 overall. Swift has recorded back-to-back 100-yard games and has three on the season -- he was a difference-maker in last year's 36-17 victory with 104 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries.
Florida is playing its third AP Top 10 opponent, having split with Auburn and new No. 1 LSU. The Gators bounced back from their loss to LSU on Oct. 19, turning back South Carolina 38-27. Kyle Trask had his best game since replacing injured Feleipe Franks under center with a career-best four touchdown passes.
In five starts, Trask has completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,225 yards and 13 touchdowns with only four interceptions and has at least two scoring tosses in each game.
Georgia has retained the Okefenokee Oar the last two seasons, while Florida is looking to reclaim it for the first time since a 24-10 victory in 2016. The schools disagree on when the rivalry started, with Georgia claiming a 52-43-2 lead in the all-time series beginning in 1904 with a 52-0 victory.
Florida does not count that game since the university was not established by the state legislature until 1905 and trails 51-43-2 in its all-time annals.
Dollars make sense when it comes to Georgia in JacksonvilleDespite the game being much closer to Florida than it is Georgia, the city of Jacksonville has spared no expense in keeping the game there. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the city covers the cost of the flight from Athens to Jacksonville and the most recent terms of the deal give the schools $1 million starting next season and $1.25 million starting in 2022-23.
Factor in the ticket sales being split evenly between the two programs and Georgia nets an estimated $9 million every two seasons -- well above the projected $3.8 million payout for a home-and-home series.
But all of that is secondary to Georgia reviving its College Football Playoff hopes with this game. On the offensive side, that means the Bulldogs' wide receivers making more big plays. Fromm's touchdown rate of 5.2 percent is barely better than half his 9.8 mark from 2018 when he threw 30 in just 306 attempts.
"It's not about the relationship as much as it is the ability to win one-on-one, win in space," Smart said at his weekly press conference Monday. "We call them 50/50 balls or back shoulders, whatever it may be. We have to win more battles when it comes to that, because people in our league are going to play you a certain type of way. So you have to be able to win those.
"I don't think it's relationship driven or rep driven. I would say continuity of the same guys in the game has kind of been all over the place because every receiver has missed some game in some way, shape or form."
George Pickens leads the team with 23 receptions and 318 yards while Lawrence Cager and Demetris Robertson share top honors with three touchdown catches. Cager returned to practice this week after suffering bruised ribs in the loss to South Carolina and sitting out the win over Kentucky.
Fromm, who is 9-5 against AP Top 25 teams, is also 230 yards shy of becoming the fifth quarterback in school history to reach 7,000 and four touchdown passes shy of Eric Zeier (67) for third all-time.
The Bulldogs remain stout defensively after posting their second shutout of the season. They have not given up more than 20 points in a game this season and rank fifth in the country in scoring defense at 10.6 points per game allowed. Georgia also ranks fifth in rushing yards allowed (85.7) and seventh in total defense (266.7).
What the Gators lose in mobility at quarterback without Franks, they gain with Trask being a more pure passer, something not lost on Smart as his team has recorded just four sacks in the last four games and has five interceptions on the season.
"I think that he's gotten the confidence of the receivers and the ability to throw the ball. When he came in the game at Kentucky, you saw it right away," Smart said of Trask. "He's a natural passer. He brings value to the rest of their team because of his ability to throw the ball. He makes them harder to defend because all of their weapons are -- their best, best players, their weapons are perimeter players.
"And you look at what he's done, he makes you defend all 53 yards, and he's a good quarterback. He's tough to defend.”
Mullen hoping for better outcome in second try with Gators vs. BulldogsLittle went right for Florida in last year's game after Franks marched the offense down the field to start the second half and hooked up with Freddie Swain on a 36-yard touchdown pass for a 14-13 lead. The Gators were outscored 23-3 the rest of the way as Fromm had two scoring tosses and Swift put the exclamation point on the win with a 33-yard touchdown run.
“I’ve been in the game before. I know it’s a big game and that scene and that atmosphere. It was a lot of fun. I don’t think —obviously I don’t think we finished the way we wanted to," Mullen recounted at his Tuesday media availability. "I thought we played well for two and a half quarters and even well enough overcoming all the different things. We kept fumbling the ball in the first half. We kept turning the ball over but had the mental toughness to stay in there. We just didn’t have enough to finish it in the end.”
The hope is Trask and the offense do have enough. The senior has reached 200 yards or better in three straight games and has done a notable job continuing to spread the ball among a deep receiving corps. Five players have at least 20 receptions and a sixth has 19, with Kyle Pitts pacing the group at 35 catches, 391 yards and a team high-tying four touchdown grabs.
The last time #Dan Mullen’s offense leaned so heavily on the pass, Dak Prescott was his QB. Kyle Trask & the #Gators making the approach work four years later: https://t.co/WOVVZ5D0Uk pic.twitter.com/pWcn60IvKE— Edgar Thompson (@osgators) October 29, 2019
Florida is also expected to get back Kadarius Toney, who returned to practice last week after missing the previous six games with a shoulder injury. Toney had just three catches for 72 yards in the first two contests, but one of them was a 66-yard touchdown, and the junior running back averaged 10.9 yards per touch on his 21 carries and 25 receptions in 2018.
“KT is a playmaker, so anytime you get him the ball in space, he is going to make a play,” Trask told The Athletic. “I think it’s going to help our offense a lot this week just having him back as a weapon, going against a great defense like Georgia has.”
Then there is the matter of slowing down Swift. The Gators rank 31st nationally against the run, yielding 124.1 yards per game, but are also holding opponents to just 3.8 yards per rush. The concern, though, is the bulk of those yards have come in the last two games as LSU and South Carolina rolled up a combined 435 yards at 6.5 per pop.
“One you gotta get a bunch of guys to the ball because he’s one of the best backs, if not the top back, in college football right now," Mullen said in singing Swift's praises. "He’s got breakaway speed, power, can make you miss in the open field.
"To sit there and say, hey we’re one on one and you got to tackle him, you got to get a couple guys to the party there and go tackle him. He does a great job that way. Also, you got to fit your gaps. You got to be sound. If you give them an opening he’s got the speed to go take it to the house."
- 2-4 ATS in its last six games.
- 4-0 ATS in its last four conference games.
- 11-3 ATS in its last 14 games following a straight up win.
- 12-5 ATS in its last 17 games following a bye week.