AP Photo/Phil Sandlin Florida coach Urban Meyer points to the field as he protest a call by referees during an NCAA college football game with South Florida.
ATHENS, Ga. — Florida football coach Urban Meyer remembers in 2005 when buses carrying the Gators crested the Mathews Bridge overlooking the St. John’s River in Jacksonville.
That was when he got his first glance at the spirit and chaos that accompanies the Georgia-Florida game.
“I’m honored to be a part of it, and it’s hard to believe that this is my sixth one,” Meyer said. “For the old Gators, this is the one that they’re most concerned with. I found that out when I first got hired.”
Meyer gained a quick upper hand in the rivalry with 14-10 and 21-14 victories in ’05 and ’06, and his ’06 team went on to win the national championship. Florida lost nine defensive starters from its title team, and Georgia took advantage in the ’07 meeting, winning 42-30 behind the current NFL trio of quarterback Matthew Stafford, tailback Knowshon Moreno and receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.
A memorable series moment occurred during the first quarter of the ’07 game, when a 1-yard Moreno touchdown was followed by more than 50 Bulldogs players leaving the sideline to celebrate in the end zone.
“It was crazy, probably one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my college career,” Georgia senior inside linebacker Akeem Dent said. “It’s the first time I had ever seen that happen. It was surreal.”
Florida has provided plenty of retribution since, winning the past two meetings 49-10 and 41-17. Meyer called two timeouts in the final minute of the ’08 slaughter as the Gators continued their march to another BCS crown before drubbing the black-helmet Bulldogs last season.
The Gators enter Saturday’s game having won 17 of the past 20 series meetings, and Meyer enters with a 15-1 record against Florida’s rivalry trio of Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State.
“I don’t think you have to do anything at all to get our players ready for this game. I really don’t,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
After a run of games that had national impact, this year’s contest pales by comparison, as it’s the first without a ranked team since 1979. The Gators started out 4-0 before losing three straight to fall out of the polls for the first time under Meyer, while the Bulldogs started 1-4 but have won three straight.
Georgia’s recovery has included scoring more than 40 points three straight times against SEC opposition for the first time in program history. Florida had an open date last week to address its woes.
“We’re still Georgia, and they’re still Florida, so everybody knows what the deal is,” Bulldogs receiver Tavarres King said. “I sure people are talking about it in their dorm rooms, so it’s still the same.”
Saturday will be an elimination game in the SEC East chase. The Georgia-Florida loser would have four league setbacks and would lose out to the other should the league’s tiebreaker procedures come into play.
Florida can win the East by defeating Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina the next three weeks, while any scenario of Georgia claiming the division must include South Carolina losing twice.
Even if the Bulldogs come up short in their East quest, the Bulldogs have a chance to leave October at 5-4 and with a rare win over the Gators after starting the month with a loss at Colorado that left them 1-4.
“It would be a huge testament to how we turned it around and how our team responded to adversity,” fullback Fred Munzenmaier said. “It would be spectacular. I don’t think this is a down season at all for us. We’re in the race, and we still do have a chance to finish at the top of this league. No matter what, a win in a rivalry like this can put a positive note on your season.”
Said cornerback Sanders Commings: “I don’t know if it would erase the past, but it would definitely makes us feel a lot better. I’m in my redshirt sophomore year, and we haven’t beat them since I’ve been here. It would definitely mean a lot to me.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...