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Georgia and Florida square off in Jacksonville

10:47 AM, Oct 26, 2011   |    comments
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Jacksonville, FL (Sports Network) - The 22nd-ranked Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators are set to the play their annual matchup in Jacksonville, and an important SEC victory is up for grabs.

Georgia opened the season with back-to-back losses to Boise State and South Carolina, and the cries for head coach Mark Richt's job arose. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they have completely turned the season around, running off five consecutive victories, including four in a row against SEC competition. They have been idle since an October 15 meeting with Vanderbilt that resulted in a 33-28 triumph. Therefore, they have had plenty of time to prepare for this showdown.

"We know it's a big game," Richt said. "We know it's big for a lot of reasons for us this year. A lot of our fans will ask me in the offseason if we are going to beat Florida. That's the goal, but what I hope more than anything is when we get to that game that it is meaningful in the SEC Eastern Division race, which it is right now."

Saturday's clash will mark the fourth in a row for the Gators against a team ranked in the Top-25, the first time since 1971 that the program has endured such a stretch. Florida's season began on a high note, as first-year head coach Will Muschamp guided his squad to four consecutive victories. Unfortunately, the last three outings have ended in double-digit defeats, including a 17-6 setback to Auburn in the most recent outing two weeks ago.

"You just take it a game at a time, in my perspective," said Florida wideout Frankie Hammond. "This game is over with, and we are going to put this behind us. We have two weeks now to prepare for Georgia."

Georgia owns a 46-40-2 series edge over Florida, but the Gators have won the last three matchups.

The Bulldogs are a potent offensive team that averages 32.3 ppg and 411.1 total ypg, and the man at the helm is QB Aaron Murray, one of the top sophomore signal callers in the nation. Murray has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,653 yards and 16 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. His top target, Malcolm Mitchell, has 25 catches for 438 yards and three scores, but he is listed as questionable for this affair with a hamstring injury. If Mitchell can't go, Georgia may rely even more heavily on freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell, who has run for 608 yards and four scores this season.

Against Vanderbilt last time out, Georgia compiled 443 total yards, a career- high 326 of which came from the arm of Murray. He tossed three touchdown passes, including a pair to Marlon Brown, overshadowing the fact that Crowell was held in check.

"When the opportunities are there you've got to hit them and we did that a lot tonight," said Murray. "Wish we could have had a couple more but we got enough points to win the game and we're happy to get out with a win."

Georgia holds its opponents to 20.4 ppg and 272.9 total ypg, impressive numbers for a team that has played some solid opponents thus far. The Bulldogs are tremendous against the run, yielding just 3.2 ypc and 101.9 ypg. the pass defense has been stellar as well, posting 11 INTs while permitting a mere six passing scores. Bacarri Rambo has five picks for the defense, while Jarvis Jones has compiled 10 TFLs.

Vanderbilt managed to score three offensive touchdowns against Georgia, surprising both because of the strength of the 'Dawgs and the shaky play of the Commodore offense heading into the tilt.

Shifting focus to Florida, it figures to get two standout players back this weekend in tailback Jeff Demps and quarterback John Brantley. Both have been nursing ankle injuries, and while Demps is a near lock to be on the field, Brantley's probable status has to make Gator fans feel good.

The club has struggled mightily without Brantley, as freshmen QBs Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett have been unable to move the offense with any degree of consistency. Against Auburn, the two young signal callers combined for just 120 passing yards and were sacked four times. Combined with a poor ground attack that mustered a mere 2.2 yards per carry, the Gators finished with a low total of 194 total yards to go along with three turnovers.

"Playing at quarterback as a true freshman in this league is difficult," said Muschamp. "They (Driskel and Brissett) are going to be fine. You can't score six points and win games. It's going to be tough. Then again, it's not all their fault either. You've got to play better up front, play better at the wide out position, got to develop some things in the run game. You've got to do a lot."

That poor offensive effort against Auburn overshadowed a strong defensive showing, as the Gators held the Tigers to 278 total yards in that affair. Just 7-of-16 passes were completed against UF, which also held the defending national champs to 3.6 yards per rushing attempt.

Florida is scoring 26.9 ppg this season to go along with 353.7 total ypg, while opponents are notching 18.9 ppg and 289.1 total ypg against the Gators. Muschamp is a defensive-minded coach, so it comes as no surprise that UF has thrived in that department. The Gators have turned the ball over 14 times, and while Chris Rainey looked like a Heisman candidate early on, the standout tailback has been unable to get going lately.

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