Jacksonville, FL (Sports Network) - The third-ranked Florida Gators can clincha spot in the SEC Championship Game this Saturday if they are able to knockoff the 12th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs when the two long-time rivals meet atEverBank Stadium in Jacksonville.
The Gators, who are actually second in the most recent installment of the BCSrankings, have jumped out to a 7-0 start for the sixth time in school history,and the fourth time since 1995 when they won the first of back-to-backnational championships. This game represents UF's fourth against a rankedopponent this season, as it took out No. 23 Tennessee (37-20), No. 3 LSU(14-6) and No. 8 South Carolina (44-11), not to mention a 20-17 triumph overnow-ranked Texas A&M early on.
As for the Bulldogs, they are 6-1 on the season despite not facing the samedaunting schedule as has Florida. Georgia's biggest wins have been over leaguefoes Missouri (41-20) and Tennessee (51-44), and the team is coming off aless-than-inspired 29-24 victory at Kentucky. UGA's one loss was a 35-7verdict at South Carolina on Oct. 6, meaning a win in this game is anabsolute must if it has any chance of reaching the SEC title tilt for thesecond straight year.
Georgia owns a 48-40-2 advantage in the all-time series with Florida, whichincludes a 24-20 win in last year's tussle. The Bulldogs haven't won twostraight over the Gators since taking three-in-a-row from 1987-89. Prior tolast year's encounter, Florida had won three straight and 18 of the previous22 meetings.
The Gators have outscored their six SEC foes by a 184-71 margin, including57-8 in the third quarter and 51-13 in the fourth. Last week against SouthCarolina, the Florida offense certainly wasn't firing on all cylinders as theunit generated a mere 183 total yards (89 rushing, 94 passing), but QB JeffDriskel threw four TD passes, with a pair going to Jordan Reed. All 21 of theGators' points in the first half came off turnovers, the Gamecocks committingfour giveaways on the day. Conversely, Florida did not have a single turnover.
The UF defense was on point as well, allowing USC a meager 191 total yards,which included just 36 yards on the ground. In addition to coming up with thefour takeways, the Gators logged four sacks and got 11 tackles from ReginaldBowens.
Driskell has been an efficient, if unspectacular, game manager for coach WillMuschamp's squad this season, completing 66.9 percent of his pass with eightTDs and only one interception, but he averages just 132.7 ypg. The UF run gamehowever, has been rather potent, with Mike Gillislee picking up 652 yards andscoring seven TDs, helping the team churn out 212.7 ypg on the ground andaccount for 16 of its 24 offensive scores.
Florida is averaging 30.1 ppg while allowing just 12.1 ppg, the defensiveyield currently ranking the team fourth in the country. The unit has beenespecially tough against the run, as foes are averaging just 3.1 ypc and only97.3 ypg. As for their effort against the pass, the Gators have allowed agrand total of three aerial scores in seven games. Florida has collected 15sacks and 16 turnovers.
Despite their success, Muschamp knows there is still a considerable amount ofwork that needs to be done before the team reaches all of its goals.
"We are very hard self-evaluators and I said if from the beginning that wewatch the film and say what do we need to do better. I stand in front of theteam on Mondays and tell the team what I need to do better as far as managingthe game and how we practice and how we approach the week. I tell them eachweek what we need to do to be successful and we self-reflect on what we needto do."
The Bulldogs trailed three times in last week's game against Kentucky, butused a record-setting 427-yard, four-TD pass performance from Aaron Murray toavoid what would have been a monumental upset. Murray, who now has 16 TDpasses and only four interceptions on the year, set a new school record forcareer TD passes and was named the SEC's Offensive Player of the Week as aresult. Both Tavarres King (nine catches, 188 yards, two TDs) and MalcolmMitchell (nine catches, 103 yards) had monster receiving days.
In addition to Murray's exploits (130-of-199, 1,914 yards), the Georgiaoffense has gotten production from RBs Todd Gurley (93 carries, 622 yards,nine TDs) and Keith Marshall (70 carries, 488 yards, five TDs), as well asKing (26 rec., 511 yards, five TDs), Michael Bennett (24 rec., 345yards, four TDs) before he suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago that willsideline him for the remainder of the season, Marlon Brown (22 rec., 326yards, three TDs) and Mitchell (18 rec., 229 yards). In all, six guys have atleast 100 receiving yards, helping the UGA offense average 39.6 points and486.9 total yards per contest (205.1 ypg rushing, 281.7 ypg passing).
The Georgia defense has performed much better in the second half of its sevengames to this point, as it has allowed a total of 108 points in the first twoquarters compared to just 61 over the final two. The unit permits 367.4 ypg,and has come up with just 10 turnovers and 11 sacks. Shawn Williams and AmarloHerrera currently sit atop the team's tackles list with 51 and 50,respectively, while Jarvis Jones has proven his worth in the trenches bylogging a club-best five sacks.
Kentucky scored the first points of the game last week, and wound up with 206rushing yards on 43 attempts (4.8 ypc). The Wildcats finished with just 123passing yards, as Alec Ogletree led three UGA defenders in double-digittackles with 11.
Murray knows his team is going to have play exceptionally well in all phasesof the game to have a shot against Florida.
"At the end of the day, it all depends on how we play next Saturday. We knowwe have to play an unbelievable game offensively, defensively and specialteams if we want to have a chance to win that game so we just have to be readyto go."