No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs Aim To Break Losing Streak Against Florida In Jacksonville Saturday

Dawgs Favored By Two Touchdowns Over Determined Gators

Monday, October 23, 2017 - by special report

On the surface, Georgia would seem to have a lot going for it heading into Saturday’s game against Florida in Jacksonville, a site that hasn’t been too kind for the team in red and black over the last quarter of a century.

The third-ranked Bulldogs enter having won its last three games by an average margin of victory of 32.3 points.

Florida needs a win to avoid its third straight loss after having just three and two regular seasons losses the last two years.

This, of course, is a game where rankings often don’t matter.

A top 10 team has lost six times since 2002 to teams lower ranked or unranked.

The Bulldogs are favored by 14 1/2 which makes this the largest point spread for Georgia over Florida in records going back to 1985, according to Bovada. The only other double-digit point spread that favored Georgia since then was 11 1/2 in 2014.

When Georgia’s head coach Kirby Smart recently asked his team to stand up if they’d beaten Florida, everybody remained in their seat.

Even though there are some fifth-year seniors on the team, that’s exactly how junior center Lamont Gaillard painted the picture. “No one stood up,” Gaillard said.

Georgia hasn’t beaten Florida since 2013. Since then, the Gators have beaten the Bulldogs by a combined score of 89-33. Some players don’t even remember the fact that it’s been that long, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pay attention.

“I was like, ‘Man, I’ve never beat Florida while I was here,’” senior nose guard John Atkins said. “It really shocked me.”

For senior tight end Jeb Blazevich, Smart’s question was “sobering."“I think that with so much praise going on on the outside, it’s like ‘Guys, this is where we’re at. Nobody’s beat these guys,’” Blazevich said. “And it’s just something -- a call to action to get back to work coming off the bye week.”

But Smart said Georgia's recent history against Florida will have nothing to do with the outcome of the game, and the Bulldogs' success so far this season will certainly not automatically give them the win.

“It's not about what the favorite is, what the line is,” Smart said. “I mean, it's going to boil down to how we play. That is the one thing we can control, is how we play. That's all we can worry about.”

Georgia tends to handle these sorts of things on the inside, and this game is no different from any other. There are signs throughout the athletic facility reminding the team of how the last three games against the Gators have gone. Every day, the players see photos of past scores and teammates getting tackled.

“That’s an every game thing,” Gaillard said. “But when it’s this game, it sticks.”

Bulldogs remain No.3 in the AP Top 25 Poll

Following a bye week, Georgia maintained its spot at No. 3 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. The poll, which was released on Sunday, debuted with the same top-3 as last week's poll, with Alabama at No. 1, followed by Penn State at the No. 2 spot. 

The Top 25 saw less shakeup this week than last week, when four top-10 teams lost.

The biggest change in the rankings was Notre Dame's ascension into the top-10, as the Irish clock in at No. 9 in the latest poll. Notre Dame is the only opponent Georgia has faced this season currently ranked in the AP Top 25.

Preparing for the Gators

The fact Missouri quarterback Drew Lock was able to throw four touchdown passes in Sanford Stadium while avoiding being sacked once didn’t affect the Bulldogs too much in the long run.

Georgia still won the game 53-28 and improved to 7-0, but the inability of Georgia’s defense to affect the quarterback in that game lingered into the team’s bye week, becoming a point of emphasis for the defensive front.

“That work week that we had, we mixed it up a little bit, and we put different guys in different positions and really focused on rushing the passer,” said senior defensive lineman John Atkins.

Last week, Smart stressed the need to improve the pass rush and beat blocks after the defense failed to generate much pressure on Lock. Against Vanderbilt the week before, Georgia’s front seven also failed to apply pressure on quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who was not sacked or picked off in the game.

On Monday, Smart said much of the reason Georgia has struggled in the pass rush lately has been the max protection looks opposing offenses have thrown at them on passing situations.

“If they’re keeping seven guys in to protect, it’s tough to get rush with four guys,” Smart said. “So you got to be able to hold up in coverage if people max protect.”

Atkins echoed Smart’s assessment, saying the key is being able to apply pressure even when the defense is only rushing four players and is outnumbered.

“We got to be able to hit home on the four-man rush,” Atkins said.

But Smart said neither player can single-handedly transform Georgia’s pass rush. Instead, Smart said the increased number of players on the defensive front will keep Georgia’s front seven more fresh in the coming games.

Against Florida on Saturday, Georgia faces one of the more lackluster passing games in the SEC. Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks is dead last in the conference in passing yards.

But Smart isn’t discounting the Gator’s pass attack.

“They’ve got, probably, the best wide out group we’ve faced,” Smart said. “Combined with the fact the quarterback has one of the strongest arms I’ve ever seen.”

Overall, Saturday may provide Georgia with its best chance to return to the pass rush the defense showcased earlier in the season, especially since the Bulldogs will travel to Jacksonville with a replenished defensive line.

“We got to do a better job of affecting the quarterback when they don’t max protect,” Smart said. “Hopefully, having a little more depth will allow us to do that.”

Injury Report

Georgia’s defensive line is returning two players, Trenton Thompson and David Marshall, from injury.

Junior defensive tackle Thompson first returned to practice last Tuesday after missing two weeks of practice and two games after he sprained a knee against Tennessee

On Monday, Smart said Marshall was cleared to play after being absent from practice for more than a week. Marshall also did not play in Georgia’s game against Missouri.

Earlier Tuesday, Smart said junior defensive tackle Daquan Hawkins-Muckle was “battling back” from an undisclosed injury. He seemed to be practicing in full with the rest of the defensive line.

Terry Godwin was practicing normally with the rest of the wide receivers during the media viewing period. The junior, who was forced to leave Georgia’s game against Missouri on Oct. 14 with a rib injury, was also seen practicing last Tuesday, the last practice open to the media.

Last week, Smart said Godwin was “great” in his first practice back from injury.

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