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October 28, 2005

Injuries overshadow Georgia-Florida showdown

No D.J. Shockley. A questionable Brandon Siler. A lot of questions surrounding the health of Ray McDonald. Welcome to the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, where injuries have taken over the spotlight.

Shockley, who as a first-year starting quarterback has led Georgia to a 7-0 record and a No. 4 ranking, will miss the showdown against No. 16 Florida (5-2, 3-2 SEC) in Jacksonville Saturday with a sprained knee ligament suffered in a 23-20 win against Arkansas. But he may not be the only key starter on the sidelines.

Florida's Siler, one of the top linebackers in the SEC, is nursing a sprained ankle and hasn't been able to practice much this week. Gators coach Urban Meyer expects him to be able to play, but he will be far from 100 percent. Meyer has said that McDonald, a defensive tackle, will play but that he will probably only be used for a limited number of snaps. McDonald partially tore an ACL in the Gators' 16-7 win against Tennessee Sept. 17. He returned for the first time last week in a 21-17 loss at No. 7 LSU, but was only able to play a handful of snaps before leaving the game for good.

But even with all the injury talk, the 83rd meeting between Florida and Georgia, which is Rivals.com's Game of the Week, is generating a huge buzz on both campuses. The Bulldogs remain one of six undefeated teams in Division I-A and the Gators must win to have any hope of winning the SEC East. The fact that it remains one of the best rivalries in college football only adds to the hype.

"I've followed the game for a long time and this is truly one of the greatest rivalries," Meyer said. "When I was hired here it was very clear that there were three big rivalries (Tennessee and Florida State being the others) here on this campus and you can feel this one, this one beats pretty deep. I think the thing that makes this one so deep is the unique venue that it's played at. I think the thing that separates this one is probably the fact that there are two great programs with great success and the fact that it's played at a neutral sight."

Georgia junior Joe Tereshinski will be making his first start in place of Shockley. He is a classic pocket passer who went 5-of-9 for 91 yards with an interception against Arkansas. Look for the Dawgs to run the ball more with the new signal caller and utilize maximum protection schemes on passing plays with tight ends and fullbacks being asked to block.

The Gators spread offense may be failing to put up the big numbers that Meyer did at Utah, but Georgia's defense says it is still concerned. Quarterback Chris Leak hasn't thrown an interception in either of his two previous games in Jacksonville, including a 31-24 win by the Dawgs last season that ended the Gators' six-game winning streak in the series. The Gators have won 13 of the last 15 meetings.

"(Leak) is a great player and if you think differently, that is when he is going to burn you," Georgia safety Greg Blue said. "They run a spread offense so you really can't blitz them too much so that's the difference."

Florida's defense has ranked among the nation's best units all season and is giving up 271 yards a game, the fifth-lowest number among all Division I-A teams. Georgia ranks 14th at 292 yards per game.

Offensive edge: Have to go with the Gators here. The spread offense may not be working against the better teams in the SEC, but the loss of Shockley, arguably the most valuable player in the league, is a huge blow to the Dawgs' attack. This is not the game for any quarterback to be making his first start. Especially one who lacks the physical gifts of most of the other signal callers in the league.

Defensive edge: With the questions surrounding Siler and McDonald, we'll go with the Dawgs. Yes, Blue and his boys weren't able to stop Arkansas freshman Darren McFadden last week,, but they haven't given up more than 20 points in a game this season. The Dawgs may have to hold the Gators to 14 or less to stay undefeated and they are more than capable of doing that. Look for defensive end Quentin Moses to have a big game and cause all sorts of problems for Leak.

Special teams edge: The Gators get the nod after shutting down the best return team in the SEC last week. LSU entered the game averaging 17.3 yards per punt return and the Gators held them to just one return yard the entire game despite punting the ball 10 times.

Coaching edge: Georgia coach Mark Richt has made some brilliant moves in tight games in recent years and always seems to save his best play calls for games like this.

Florida player to watch: Offensive tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler may both be facing Moses. Hand and Butler will likely get help, but they must win that battle for the spread offense to be successful.

Georiga player to watch: Georgia's passing game relies heavily on monstrous tight end Leonard Pope (6-7, 258). They will be relying on him even more with Tereshinksi under center. Throwing the ball to the huge target on 7- and 10-yard routes is much easier and far less dangerous than going deep.

Florida will win if … Leak plays his best game of the season and the defense forces Tereshinski to beat them.

Georgia will win if … The running game and Thomas Brown can take control of the game.

X-Factor: Chad Jackson may be having a dissapointing season, but the Florida receiver will still be the most dangerous player on the field. If Leak can connect with Jackson on a couple of bombs that could be the difference.

Notes: Florida will be wearing new Nike jerseys for just this game. Instead of the traditional blue, it will have one orange sleeve … Georgia leads the all-time series 45-35-2 … Georgia leads the series in Jacksonville 39-32-1.

Prediction: Georgia 20, Florida 17


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